The ‘I’ is always there.
There is no knowing it.
It is not a new knowledge to be acquired.
There is an obstruction to its knowledge called ignorance. Remove it.
But ignorance or knowledge is not for the Self. They are overgrowths to be cleared.
Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, talk 49
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.
This post is continued from a prior post: Integrating knowledge, spontaneous action
Q. I’ve been reading Ramana Maharshi recently and he keeps on saying ‘I’m not the body’.
Tom: Yes, that’s right.
Q: But I don’t really hear you talk about not being the body.
Tom: Yes, that’s because it’s a ‘thorn’. Remember the phrase I’ve mentioned: ‘Use a thorn to remove and thorn and throw them both away’?
Q: Yes, I’ve heard you say that. Please can you explain it again?
Tom: Sure. The first thorn represents a wrong concept that is active in your mind and causes suffering, just as a thorn in your foot causes suffering. You then take a second thorn and use it as a tool to remove the first thorn, but then you throw them both away. If you don’t throw away the second thorn, then you now have a new thorn (concept) that will cause you to suffer.
Ramana often talks about rooting out the ‘I-am-the-body’ concept, and the concept ‘I-am-not-the-body’ is just to negate the initial thorn. But then you throw it away too.
Q: So I am not the body is not true either?
Tom: Exactly. Or, lets put it like this: for a moment just forget what Ramana says, forget what I say – for all you know we could both be talking a load of rubbish! Afterall, lots of intelligent people believe strange and silly things, and we could be no different, right? So forget what we say.
So let me ask you a question: do you know for sure that you are a body?
Q: Well it often seems like I am a body…
Tom: But do you know for sure?
Q: No, not for sure.
Tom: Good. Now, do you know for sure that you are not the body?
Q: No, not for sure.
Tom: Good. That’s our basic experience. We don’t know either way. The body appears and follows us around, as it were, but we don’t know exactly what it means. Is the body me? Is it not me? The truth is I don’t know. That’s it. That’s the truth. We don’t know. Isn’t that right?
Q: But when I say to myself ‘I am not the body’, it feels so good, it just feels really nice.
Tom: Yes, of course, because you are negating the concept (I-am-the-body) that causes so much suffering. It’s a good thing to practice, it’s a great practice in fact. If it works for you I recommend you practice it.
Q: Oh, I see, so it’s a practice.
Tom: Exactly. We are not saying don’t practice. We may need the second thorn, that’s why it is there, that’s why it is taught. So use that thorn, use that tool, practice ‘I am not the body’. When it has done its work, when it has weeded out the ‘I am the body’ concept, then you won’t need it any more and you can throw it away too.
Q: OK, I got it now. Wow, there are so many thorns, aren’t there?
Q: I often get confused about whether or not the world is a dream or illusion or not, but that’s just another thorn too, right?
Tom: Exactly. ‘The world is an illusion’ – it’s a very powerful thorn, one that benefited me a lot whilst I was seeking. But again, do you know for sure if the world is an illusion?
Q: No, not for sure…I know what you’re going to ask next…
Tom: …And do you know for sure that the world is not an illusion?
Q: No, not for sure . I knew you’d say that.
Tom: (laughing) That’s it! We don’t know either way! It’s so simple – Got it?
Q: (laughing) Got it.
Tom: so you can practice these, all these thorns. All these thorns are concepts. Use them – they are most definately useful – use them if you need them. The concepts are used to weed out the beliefs. You may need to practice them for weeks or months, but when their work is done, and the suffering has dissipated, throw them away.
Also see Ranjit Maharaj talk about this.
This post is continued from my previous post: Practicing knowledge
Discarding knowledge as ignorance
Once the purpose of the tool has been fulfilled, then the tool can be dispensed with. There are two main problems with this. Firstly, you can dispense with the tool too quickly, before it has done its work of rooting out ignorance. Secondly, you can cling onto the tool for too long, which essentially means that you have started to believe in it.
I see both of these errors happening all the time. People often dismiss the need for practice completely. While there are different paths to follow (including no-path ‘paths’), that does not mean that for some a path or teaching cannot be of benefit. All teachings are provisional which means that they produce limited results. This is true of all teachings and all actions/practices – they are all limited and produce limited results. But these limited results can still be of use to us in recognising what is already (and always was) present , ie. Freedom.
Other people believe the conceptual tool. They have merely substituted one concept for another, one ignorance for another.
Hence the traditional advice is to liken these conceptual tools as being thorns, to remind you not to hold onto the second thorn, useful as it was:
Then, like the thorn used to remove a thorn, throw them both away.
See Ranjit Maharaj discuss this here.
This post is continued in the next article: Integrating knowledge/spontaneous action
This is continued from a previous post Problems with utilising conceptual tools:
This brings us to the idea of practicing knowledge. Just to be clear, the knowledge we are talking of here is in the form of concepts, as described previously above. In this case whenever we notice ourselves suffering, we notice it is because we have identified as being the doer/body-mind. We then take up the sword of knowledge ‘I am not the body’ and use it to slay the ignorance ‘I am the body’.
Other similar ideas are concepts of identifying as being the witness or identifying as consciousness or considering the world and body-mind to be an illusion. These concepts all which work in a similar way to negate the identification as the doer/body-mind. Here’s an example from Yoga Vasisthta:
You are bound firmly on all sides by the idea, I am the body’. Cut that bond by the sword of knowledge ‘I am Consciousness’ and be happy.
Whenever ignorance rises, we cut it down. When it doesn’t rise, we can leave it alone. Initially we may have to repeat the phrase ‘I am not the body’ or ‘I am Consciousness’ or ‘I am Brahman’ in our heads repeatedly, like a mantra, until it sinks in, but after sometime it is ingrained into us and we only unsheathe the sword when it is required.
To be continued in a future post: Discarding knowledge as ignorance
This post follows on from my previous post: Why seeing/understanding alone may not be enough
This understanding of no doer may initially take time to become embedded, and you may have to ‘practice’ it to start with. It’s just like many other forms of knowledge:
Take the example of a child learning his (or her) name. At first he doesn’t know his name. Upon his parents repeating his name to him multiple times, he finally starts to realise that his name is ‘Tom’. Maybe at first he forgets his name a few times and doesn’t respond when someone calls him. After sometime it becomes ingrained and embedded into his mind and he no longer has to think about it.
Eventually he can’t help but know his name. When someone calls out ‘Tom’, he automatically knows someone is calling him, whether he like it or not.
It’s the same with the understanding ‘there is no doer’. Initially the understanding may be a bit shaky, but after sometime, after repeated practice, after going through the logic behind it a few times and seeing the truth of it, it becomes more ingrained. Eventually it becomes effortless as knowing your name.
To be continued in my next post: Problems with utilising conceptual tools
This passage below is taken from ‘Illusion vs. Reality’ (page 6) by Shri Ranjit Maharaj. Shri Ranjit’s guru (Shri Siddharameshwar Maharaj) was also the Guru of Nisardagatta Maharaj, making Ranjit and Nisargadatta ‘guru-brothers’, ie. contempories in the same teaching lineage.
The address is false but when you reach the goal, it is Reality. In the same way, all the scriptures and the philosophical books are meant only to indicate that point, and when you reach it they become non-existent, empty.
…For example, to remove a thorn in your finger you use another thorn; then you throw both of them away. But if you keep the second thorn which was used to remove the first one, you’ll surely be stuck again.
To remove ignorance, knowledge is necessary, but finally both must dissolve into Reality. Your Self is without ignorance, without knowledge.
…If you keep the second thorn, which means knowledge, even if it is a golden thorn, you’ll be stuck [by the second thorn].
…Knowledge is a great thing but it must be only a remedy. When the fever goes off thanks to the medicine you take, you must stop taking it. Don’t prolong the treatment or you will create more problems.
Knowledge is necessary only to remove the disease of ignorance. The doctor will always prescribe a limited dosage!
Also see here for more