Is there anything you can do to become enlightened?

meditation moon prayer

Q. Hi Tom. Thanks for your blogs posts. Ever since I stumbled across your site I’ve been trawling through your writings and videos and found them to be quite insightful. I wanted to ask if you think there is anything you can do to become enlightened? I’ve heard it said that there is nothing you can do, it either happens or it doesn’t, but that feels kinda hopeless to me. I know hope is not the arbiter of truth but I’d like to know what you think.

Tom: Hi _____. It’s a tough one to answer as depending on how you look at it, you could either say there is nothing you can do, because there is no ‘I’, and whatever happens will happen, which is true. Similarly all seeking implies the existence of ignorance, and all paths are for the ego and so can serve to reinforce the sense of ‘I’ or ‘me’.

But you can also talk on the level of the apparent seeker and give teachings that apparently help the apparent seeker realise that there is no separate seeker at all. The essence of these teachings is to relax, still thoughts and look, and then it can be more easily seen that the ‘me’ is an illusion, and that it always was an illusion, and then it is obvious that all paths are also a part of this grand illusion too, although they seemed apparently useful at the time.

Even when this is seen, the habitual force of ignorance can be so strong that it keeps on reasserting its hold and so a post-realisation practice or sadhana can be practiced, either formally, or often it naturally happens by itself over time.

So in summary I tend to do both, sometimes radically pointing out there is no ‘separate me’, other times meeting the apparent seeker where they are, depending on whom I’m taking to and where they are at with respect to the teachings. This tends not to be something I deliberate much over, but it’s just how the interaction tends to manifest itself when I am talking with someone seeking.

Here’s a more straightforward response I gave someone else to this question:

https://tomdas.com/2018/01/15/is-there-anything-i-can-do-to-become-enlightened/

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Purification and spiritual practices after realisation

…even when the separate self has been seen to be an illusion, and the Freedom that is already here-now has been fully recognised, various habitual tendencies that were originally contingent upon the belief in separation can continue to persist. These habitual tendencies (vasanas in sanskrit) can continue to compel the apparent individual to seek fulfillment in external objects and result in continued suffering at the psychological and physical level, even though Freedom has already been realised.

There can therefore be an important process of post-realisation integration or practice in which these habitual tendencies or vasanas are rooted out and the habit of the mind to imagine itself to be a separate self is removed. Whilst much of this may happen spontaneously, it has been my experience that pointing this out to seekers even once they have realised ‘no-self’ can be of great benefit in alleviating suffering on the phenomenal level post-realisation.

In fact, it is only once the compulsive vasanas have been rooted out that love, compassion and happiness fully manifest themselves on the phenomenal level. I talk about this more here.

The above is an excerpt from a longer post that can be found here.

Q: How do I ‘turn within’ or ‘turn towards the Self’?

Q: How do I ‘turn within’ or ‘turn towards the Self’?

Tom: There is no turning within. Turning within is just a turn of phrase! Everywhere you turn is outside. You may think you are turning within, but wherever you focus is outside. Everything you focus on is actually a subtle object, and all objects are ‘outside’, meaning non-self. All objects are seen.

How can you turn towards the seer? The seer can never be seen. By that I mean the seer can never be seen as an object. The seer is the Subject. The Subject is you.

Self knowledge simple means knowing that you exist, knowing that you are.

Ignorance is identifying as this or as that, meaning identifying as one of the myriad objects that are seen.

So, how to turn within? Just don’t chase objects, and don’t identify as objects.

You could say ignorance has 2 steps:

Step 1: identifying as this or that. This creates a false notion of self, also known as ego or the jiva

Step 2: that ego/jiva then seeks pleasure and security in the world of objects.

In Step 1 we create the structure or form of the ego. Step 2 represents the movement or function of the ego. So we have described the ego’s form and function, its structure and movement. Step 1 is rectified by insight teachings, step 2 is resolved by purification teachings.

Most teachings attack either the ego-function or the ego-form, and ‘Turning within’ can attack either function, form or both.

So, be free and easy, be as you are

 

See this video for more on this:

 

If enlightenment is unconditioned and causeless, then how can a ‘spiritual practice’ lead you to it?

Q. If enlightenment is unconditioned and causeless, then how can a ‘spiritual practice’ lead you to it, as all practices are in the conditioned realm of cause and effect? I’ve heard teachers (some of whom claim not to be teachers) say that Enlightenment is uncaused: it either happens or it doesn’t, and there is nothing you can do about it because there is no you anyway. Does this sound right to you?

Tom: Hi _____, thanks for your question. It depends how you use the words. I actually think the more radical expression of non-duality that you describe is incredibly potent and hits right at the nub of the matter, but that it is not for everyone, and for many it can also be detrimental, at least initially, as it can lead to a premature hopelessness and despair. I say premature, as later on this may be exactly what is needed to stop the apparent seeker in their tracks and for realisation to beautifully dawn!

Enlightenment is a conditioned event in time

Regarding enlightenment, I would not say that enlightenment is unconditioned or causeless, in fact quite the opposite, but let me first explain what I mean by the word ‘enlightenment’ in this context. Enlightenment, as I use the word, is a phenomena or event that occurs ‘within the dream’, so to speak, in which, figuratively speaking, the dream character realises they are in a dream and that they are a dream. Note that I say figuratively speaking as I am not saying that life is actually a dream, but just using a dream as an imperfect analogy.

There is a before enlightenment and after enlightenment, so it is something that occurs in time. Sure, when enlightenment happens, it is also seen that the enlightenment was always fully present the whole entire time, even when it wasn’t realised, but that is only realised after enlightenment! For me, I don’t even know when exactly my enlightenment happened, as it was a slow burn, and I only realised what had happened sometime afterwards, but even in this example, we can see there was still a before enlightenment and after enlightenment, and in this way enlightenment could still be said to have been an event, albeit one that took place over a longer time-frame.

Prior to enlightenment, Freedom or Wholeness is not realised, even though it was always present. It is this realisation I am referring to here as ‘enlightenment’. So that’s the first thing, to realise that enlightenment is a conditioned phenomenal time-bound event in which ever-present unconditioned Freedom is recognised.

So that’s the first thing, to realise that enlightenment is a conditioned phenomenal time-bound event in which ever-present unconditioned Freedom is recognised. 

All events have (apparent) causes

Once we accept this, then we can start to look to see if there are any proximate causes of enlightenment. As all phenomena (apparently) exist in a world of cause and effect, in which there is the appearance of rule and laws, such as the law of gravity and so forth, we should be able to investigate and see if there are certain factors that can increase the chances of enlightenment happening. If we can find out what these factors are, then perhaps we can increase our own chances of enlightenment, and this is where various spiritual-type practices and activities can come into play.

Isn’t this all just reinforcing the false notion of a ‘me’?

At this point in the conversation, some people counter this by saying that there is nobody here who can do any of this, that there is no ‘I’. Enlightenment either happens or it doesn’t happen, and there is nothing you can do about it because the ‘I’ that thinks it can do something is actually an illusion.

Now this is true. These statements are directly pointing at the heart of the matter, pointing out to the apparent seeker the illusion of separation.

However, does relentlessly pointing this out actually help the apparent seeker break through the veil of illusion? Well, yes, it definitely can. Simple repetitive hammering home the essential point can eventually work, which is why at the start of this response I said that this type of teaching is incredibly potent.

However it is not the only way, and sometimes it is less effective than other ways (and of course sometimes is more effective than other ways too).

If someone asked you how to play tennis, would you say there is nothing you can do to play tennis? That playing tennis will either happen or not happen as the ‘I’ that thinks it can chose to learn to play tennis is an illusion? Or would you perhaps suggest tennis lessons or something similar, as you know that in the (apparent) world of cause and effect, tennis lessons increases the chances of being able to play tennis, even though this is not guaranteed?

Enlightenment is a phenomenon like any other – it has causes and effects

You see, once you have realised that enlightenment is an event like any other, that it occurs following an apparent set of causes and conditions, some of which can be determined and modified, then we can start to see how powerful practices can be along this path.

If we find a set of factors that increases the likelihood of enlightenment occurring, then we can start to put these factors into place, just like the person who wants to play tennis can book themselves onto tennis lessons, buy a decent tennis racket and a good pair of tennis shoes, and learn the rules of the game.

When looking at more traditional teachings, sages in centuries gone past have discovered a variety of these factors that increase the likelihood of enlightenment. I discuss some of them here.

The Grand Illusion

On one hand there is no choice, there is nobody here, and all there is is Freedom – yes – and there is nothing you can do about any of this. On the other hand, there are proximate causes to enlightenment, which, from the point of the (illusory) seeker who has not realised ‘there is nobody here’, can be utilised to their advantage in seeing this.

When it is seen, then it is also seen that all practices are also part of this Grand Illusion, often, at least initially, fuelling the ‘I’ and the suffering that goes alongside it.

See also: Can you teach enlightenment?

 

 

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Q. How can one control the mind? Simple English please!

Insight wilderbeast non-duality nature

Q. Dear Tom, I hope you are well. How can one control the mind? Simple English please!

Tom: There are basically two ways of doing this. First of all by various practices to calm the mind and generate peace, of which there are different types (see the link below). Secondly by insight, which means seeing that there is no mind, or no thinker/doer entity, only a spontaneous succession of thoughts.

These two methods usually work together in tandem, like a virtuous circle, one helping the other which in turn helps the other, and so on.

Insight alone is usually not stable and leads to an ‘enlightenment’ that comes and goes, and calm/peace alone is not ultimately liberating, as peace also comes and goes. Both of these alone are not ultimately satisfactory. However the two together usually work wonderfully well.

I’ve written some blog posts here that goes into a bit more detail about some of this, so please take your time to read through these if you want to:

Roadmap to enlightenment: a (fairly) comprehensive guide to spiritual practices

Manifesting awakening in everyday life: purification and insight

My awakening does not last. Why?

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.

Wishing you peace 🙏❤️

https://www.meetup.com/Non-duality-Kingston-London/

Manifesting awakening in everyday life: purification and insight

buddha leaf

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.

Discarding knowledge as ignorance

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