Q. This has been a source of confusion to me. If Brahman, Presence, whatever you want to call it is unconditioned, one without a second, then why do teachers go on to explain how it manifests the universe. Or, encloses itself in matter. Once an action takes place, it is no longer unconditioned…So then what is this dream, and why do so many non-dualists talk about it as though it is the Source wanting to know itself, or something like that. Thank you.
Tom: In my view, and also in the view of many of the traditional scriptures, nobody really understands Maya. It is mysterious. How can the unconditioned give rise to the conditioned? How can One appear to be many? It’s a mystery.
And why does it (appear to) happen? Again, it’s a mystery.
However, to please seekers of differing levels of understanding, different explanations are given, such as ‘consciousness wanting to know itself’, etc. The various theories are given to appease the seeker’s mind and stop the questions so that the seeker can then get on with the real work of turning inwards and keeping quiet.
That is what all the teachings are pointing to:
Be still. Be unconcerned with the world. Be unattached and happy. All is well. No need to worry. Have faith.
Do you go around repeatedly saying your name so that you remember it? Do you have to walk around saying “I am Tom, I am Tom, I am Tom?” (obviously substitute in your name).
Or do you spend most of your life not even thinking about your name, but when someone calls out your name, the understanding ‘My name is Tom’ automatically acts: you turn your head and respond?
It’s the same with understanding there is no doer: initially you may need to think about it, go through the reasoning, and realise there is no evidence for a doer. It is a conscious process. Because we have been conditioned to think of ourselves as being a doer, there is often a process of deconditioning.
It may also take time for all the suffering based on the ‘I am the doer’ notion to fall away. Other notions such as ‘I am to blame’ or ‘I could/should have done it differently’ or ‘I am not worthy’ may still all be at play. All these depend on the root belief ‘I am a separate doer-entity’. Again, there may be a conscious process of applying this understanding in order to deal with suffering as it arises and uprooting the associated beliefs upon which suffering depends.
But once this has been done, then we don’t need to think about it. The knowledge of ‘there is no doer’ has been ingrained into us. We do not need to think about it, we no longer need to repeat the process of understanding.
But just as when someone asks your name, you can spontaneously respond ‘My name is ____’, when someone asks you ‘Are you a doer?’, you can instantly reply ‘there is no doer’.
When the doer* is seen to be an illusion, an imagined fiction, the sense/feeling of being a doer may still continue. The sense/feeling of being a doer can arise like any other phenomena arises.
And notice – it arises spontaneously, meaning there is no doer there doing it. You see! It can be seen that even the sense of being a doer is something that has no doer behind it – it just happens, by itself.
So, in my daily life I often feel like I’m doing things, but there is an understanding there that there is no doer-entity doing it. It is all just happening.
This is the difference between experience and knowledge/understanding: I may feel like a doer, but I know/understand I am not a doer.
It is similar to realising the sun does not orbit a stationary earth, even though the appearance of the sun rising and setting each day continues. Or if you realise that a mirage is an illusion, the illusion persists even when not believed in. The sense of doership can continue even when the understanding ‘there is no evidence for a doer’ is present.
*By doer I mean the notion of being a separate entity which creates or authors thoughts and actions
“Listen to the Master…
by hearing, Ignorance has come up,
and by hearing it goes off.” Shri Ranjit Maharaj
The master speaks: because, as a child, we ‘listened’ to those around us, through absorbing their words we came to believe that we are a separate individual, a doer, a separate entity responsible for everything that this body-mind does. This is the basic ignorance.
Now, we can listen to the Master dispense his words. While his words, like ignorance, are also conceptual these concepts are there to remove ignorance.
The master’s words are like anti-matter: just as when anti-matter and matter collide they both disappear in a flash of energy leaving nothing behind, the master’s teachings nullify the suffering caused by our wrong notions of doership. Then the master’s teachings are also seen to be false.
We are left with no concepts at all, neither our original ignorant concepts, nor the concepts of the teaching. Only reality remains. It was always here.
In many spiritual traditions, such as some schools of of Buddhism, vedanta and yoga, seekers are advised to consider the world to be like a dream: ephemeral, transient and illusory. But is the world really an illusion, or is this merely a teaching method?
Many well-versed pandits and scholars have debated this very issue over the centuries, but for those that have glimpsed the reality that lies beyond mere verbal assertions, such debates are missing the essential point.
Question: “Brahman (the Supreme Spirit) is real. The world is illusion” is the stock phrase of Sri Sankaracharya. Yet others say, “The world is reality.” Which is true?
Sri Ramana Maharshi: Both statements are true. They refer to different stages of development and are spoken from different points of view. The (spiritual) aspirant starts with the definition, that which is real exists always. Then he eliminates the world as unreal because it is changing.
The seeker ultimately reaches the Self and there finds unity as the prevailing note. Then, that which was originally rejected as being unreal is found to be a part of the unity. Being absorbed in the reality, the world also is real. There is only being in Self-realisation, and nothing but being.
From Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, talk no. 33
We can clearly see Ramana says the teaching that the world is an illusion is itself a ‘thorn used to remove a thorn’. The teaching is a concept, and it is used to remove another concept, before they are both thrown away.
Here is another instructive quote:
Sri Ramana Maharshi: At the level of the spiritual seeker you have got to say that the world is an illusion. There is no other way. When a man forgets that he is Brahman, who is real, permanent and omnipresent, and deludes himself into thinking that he is a body in the universe which is filled with bodies that are transitory, and labours under that delusion, you have got to remind him that the world is unreal and a delusion.
Why? Because his vision which has forgotten its own Self is dwelling in the external, material universe. It will not turn inwards into introspection unless you impress on him that all this external material universe is unreal.
When once he realises his own Self he will know that there is nothing other than his own Self and he will come to look upon the whole universe as Brahman.
There is no universe without the Self. So long as a man does not see the Self which is the origin of all, but looks only at the external world as real and permanent, you have to tell him that all this external universe is an illusion. You cannot help it.
Take a paper. We see only the script, and nobody notices the paper on which the script is written. The paper is there whether the script on it is there or not. To those who look upon the script as real, you have to say that it is unreal, an illusion, since it rests upon the paper. The wise man looks upon both the paper and script as one. So also with Brahman and the universe.
Listen and read the Song of Ribhu. Let the words wash over you. These words are not to be analysed and contemplated; they are to sink into your bones and marrow and stir that Ancient Knowing that is already there within you.
Read, chant, have faith (let go into presence) and be free!
1. Ribhu: Listen again the the supreme knowledge that confers liberation immediately. All is Brahman alone, always. All is tranquility – there is no doubt.