Q. Isn’t it unhealthy and inhumane to turn away from the world and turn within? No disrespect, but denial of the world did not work for me – integration is working. Who said God loved loved us any less for embracing neurosis? God loves us maybe even more.
Tom: I know what you mean, especially with such strong language like ‘vile ways’*. It can seem inhumane and even unhealthy to deny what we consider to be an aspect of ourself. The purpose of this teaching is liberation from suffering, and this turning within is the only way I know of to attain that aim. It is also the traditional way that has been taught in various cultures for millennia – in my view, the reason this simple but radical teaching has stuck around for so long is because it works, and it is the only one that works (it goes by different names in different traditions).
The strong language is only to encourage you to turn within. There are many other aspects of life, and integration as you put it can be wonderfully healing and positive, and that is good of course, but my experience is that positive and healing as it is, it is not ultimately liberating – that is, it improves the prison but does not free one from suffering in its totality. For that Self-Enquiry or Abiding as the Self is required, and that means to turn within to find the divine within. We do not need to suppress neurosis – that is unhealthy – but just allow it and all things to be, but turn our attention away from them and all other objects towards our self – then we discover the Kingdom of Heaven within – only then can we truly say that all is one, and it not be a belief or concept in the ego-mind. Only then does suffering end.
*A version of this question was originally asked after I posted the following verses on Facebook; they are teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi taken from the wonderful text Guru Vachaka Kovai:
75. Only mad folk perplexed because
They deem the false world to be real
Find joy in this illusion.
The truly wise find joy in nothing
But Awareness which is Being.
76. Those well established in the Self,
True Being, will never pursue the world’s
Vile ways. For such descent into
The false allurements of the world
Is yielding to the animal weakness
77. What does one gain, you well may ask,
By giving up the wealth immense
Of worldly pleasure and seeking only
The benefit of true Awareness
Is the unbroken prevalence
Of peace within the heart, the bliss
Of one’s own natural being.
Below is a post I wrote on Facebook for which I ended up receiving a fair bit of criticism. I also received a lot of praise too. For this post I’ve focussed on the criticism as this is where the discussion lies – at the end I have added some of the criticisms, questions and clarifications from other readers that arose from this post. What do you think?
Your job is not to get involved with life. Stay out of it. Don’t get involved with the drama. Don’t get involved with life.
Allow the body and mind to do what it needs to do to get by, survive and be healthy. Take care of your responsibilities. No need to get involved. No need to identify as the images/appearance we call the body-mind. Allow the body and mind to come and go as it pleases.
The temptress Maya will try her best to get you back and involved you in her (evil) ways. She will try to seduce you with many things. These are your tests. You success will be judged by how well you are able to stay uninvolved.
Thoughts will come your way and give you apparently convincing logical and robust reasons why you must enter life and become involved with life’s ways. Maya tries to draw you back in in many ways. She is very convincing but ultimately has no actual power unless you concede your power to her.
Through all of this, your job is to just be. Relax. No need to push anything away. Allow all to come and go in this illusory and divine play that is supposedly our life. Allow maya to fill you up and run straight through you, you remaining totally unaffected, unaffected and uninvolved.
Only if you are able to overcome Maya’s seductive ways are you considered eligible and worthy for Self-Realisation. Walk bravely and survive this test through non-involvement. Only then are you deserving of receiving That Peace beyond all conditions which is already Your True Nature. It is already All-That-Is. In reality, there is only That.
Q: What is wrong with maya?
Tom: she is perfect as she is.
Q: …Including one’s drive to engage with it fully, coming full circle…
Tom: It depends on what you mean by engage with it fully, but the ego usually doesn’t want to hear these teachings and instead tries to cling to the life it thinks it has. In that sense, continuing to engage with life can be a great way to stay stuck in illusion and suffering. It’s why all the great traditions say look within and consider the world to be empty. They are pointing out that running after worldly things and ‘engaging with life’ will never lead to the fulfilment the heart desires.
By the way, ‘perfect as she is’ means there is no need to ‘get involved’.
Q. Won’t this lead to spiritual bypassing?
Tom: If there is no supression/repression (of emotions), and things are allowed to arise naturally and be felt, there will be no emotional bypassing. Rather, what needs to be healed will rise to the surface, what needs to come out will come out
Comment: Wonderful. God’s light shines through you! Ironically, I just read this by Robert Adams:
Let the world do what it does. Do not judge it. Do not condemn it. Do not love it. Do not hate it. Observe it. Watch it. But leave it alone. As you lose attachment to this world. The attachment to what we call God grows and grows.
Find your self. Look to yourself. Dive deeper, deeper within your self. Try to understand who you are by diving deep within yourself. Do not look to the universe. Do not look to things. Look to your Self. Only you can know yourself. No one can really help you.
Q. So no social involment? So no opening of the heart, no kindness, no empathy, no compassion…
…remembering what said once Ch. Namkhay Norbu : “There is no difference between a Buddha and a herd of pigs”. Very deep insight, indeed, but when he is sick he goes to see the doctor. It is not selfish, it is, of course, for the transmission of the sacred teachings. So things are important without to be important but still are important without being important. Last words of Hassan I Sabba, the chief of the assassins (Haschishins) : “Nothing is real, everything is allowed”. What about playing freesbee with the good boy? 🙂 Freedom of choice, freedom of feeling. Just a matter to do one’s own thing. There will be volumes of sharp reasonnings proving that one is right and volumes of as sharp reasonnings proving that one is wrong.
Tom: Nice one. One post cannot capture everything, of course. There are many facets to this, so it seems. Opening of the heart, kindness, empathy and compassion all arise naturally when the ego is not. They are all natural manifestations of the natural state. As you mentioned Namkhai Norbu, let me ask you: are the 6 paramitas ultimately different from rigpa/dzogchen?
Comment: Nonsense! If “there is only That,” then passionate involvement is also That. You’re advocating for a dualistic paradigm while claiming to represent nonduality. Can’t have it both ways. The only way this position does make sense is if we interpret “stay uninvolved” non-literally. That is, we interpret it to mean that we always know “there is only That” even while we’re in the midst of passionate involvement in the world.
Tom: You make a good point. Initially it starts off dualistically – eg. be still, be uninvolved, let go, etc. These are all things for a ‘separate self’ to do. And this is how the spiritual search always starts. Then it can progress to ‘know you are that stillness’ or ‘know there is only that and all this is that’. This is the insight part of the teachings. Then from that knowing, relaxation emerges and stillness deepens. This is the purification part of the teachings, something often missed out in many contemporary expositions. Then eventually all is given up and any notion of ‘you’ disappears. This is surrender and being consumed by the divine. At this point the very idea of a teaching, such as my post above, is a joke. How can this ever be taught or put into words? Yet this is how the story apparently goes: from duality to non-duality, then realising that too was illusion
Q. I like that way of looking at it. Thanks, Tom. I suppose the trouble with a declarative-style post on Facebook is that people at every stage in the story will see it, and it may not be appropriate for all.
Tom: Yes, I agree, thank you.
Q. Bollocks. During my professional life I got totally involved and was very happy, while I also loved my wife, played tennis and golf and downhill skiing, travelled, enjoyed my dogs.So no.
Tom: This post, like all teachings, is a finite expression at a single point in time, and although I concede it is written in directive language, it will not be right for everyone. If what you write above works/worked for you then great. I am genuinely happy you have had/are having a nice life.
Q. I have to be passionate about feeding my children and getting them into school. It won’t just happen if I stay “uninvolved”. (Do you have children?). But similarly, on some level, I have to be passionate about transcending duality (as much as a drowning man wants air, Nisargadatta and others have said). So this passion and need for involvement are not unnecessary. Passion itself is a divine expression, whether it be to advance a worldly aim or to advance beyond the world.
Tom: My advice is to experiment with this for yourself. It’s easy to say things like ‘we need to be involved’, and of course this is true on one level, but that is approaching the words from an analytical/thinking point of view instead of taking them as practice instructions (or a suggestion as how one can practice).
Instead try to put the words into practice and see what happens. Experiment with the above. You will (perhaps) find that outwardly most everything carries on as before. You still do the school run, you still may have political views or meet up with and interact with society and your loved ones. Or perhaps many things will drop away (this often happens).
But at the same time we start to find a peace that lies amidst everything. The school run, once so tiring and grueling, suddenly becomes much easier (I do have children btw!). It can start quite small, but suddenly life starts to get easier, things start to flow. We may not understand why, but peace starts to infiltrate our life.
As peace comes in, we relax and let go. Whilst being totally uninvolved in life, we are simultaneouly in the thick of life. The appearance of the body continues to act. It’s like magic really. I hope that makes sense.
This is not philosophy or something to think about, but a call to action: to let go of and release our sense of restricted self and let go of our negative habitual tendencies and addiction to both thought and the world. As we let go, we start to see that the belief that we are the body-mind is an illusion, our minds attain natural calm and peace dawns. Life becomes a play of the Divine and we cannot but surrender to Him (Her/It) perpetually in Gracious Stillness. Namaste
Q. I do see what you’re saying Tom. Is it what the ancient texts call “act without being attached to the results of your actions”? Because I think that might be a clearer way of expressing it than saying “stay uninvolved” – which opens itself up to misunderstandings and unnecessary objections.
Tom: Try it and let me know if there is a difference.
Q. Thanks for the clarification. I can see how being uninvolved with thought, or uninvolved with habitual tendencies can be helpful. But not so sure about “uninvolved with life?”. There are many who are uninvolved with life who are certainly not uninvolved with duality.
Tom: Sure. As I said, the teaching is not philosophically complete, nor is it intended to be. Instead, if you resonate, try to implement the teaching as much as is practical for you and your life. I’ve just added the phrase ‘Take care of your responsibilities.’ to the 2nd paragraph following this discussion. Many thanks to you. Ironically, the teaching is born through interaction
Comment: This idea is completely unintegrated with ordinary human life in the world….and an awakened life need not be and ultimately cannot be…especially at this point in history where so much suffering calls for the mindful response and even skillful activism of people who live in presence. Sorry, But this is not a good post Tom. Very misguided, disappointing and even harmful.
Tom: Hi XXX, thanks for speaking your mind on this, something I welcome very much. It would be helpful to me if you could explain what exactly you found to be misguided, disappointing and harmful and why. Many thanks.
Comment: the idea that we need not or are somehow spiritually better off to not be engaged in life and the implication that ordinary life is somehow not “really real” and so unimportant enough for us to simply ignore……is a grave though quite common, misconception about what an awakened life looks like.
It is true that living in constant anxiety about life is not helpful and calls us to a deeper discovery of the surrender that is already within us….But being truly and unconditionally PRESENT to life also means allowing a skillful response to life to arise in our hearts and to function and act through us. And in some cases, this response to life is very active and engaged.
You seemed to be saying that the best approach is to not care anything for everyday phenomenal life in the world and to remain unengaged …..At least that is what I took away from your post. And from my perspective that is really encouraging irresponsibility and a rather insensitive attitude. And I am sorry, but that is harmful Tom.
Tom: I hear what you are saying here, and it can sound like that when thought about. However when it is practiced it can be quite different in reality. My experience is that when life is approached with this attitude, a deep letting go can take place, peace dawns, and engagement with life by the body-mind may very well happen (or may not). As the ego is effaced, clarity and love arise in its place and these acts quite naturally by themselves when required. This is not the sentimental love, but something else…The clarity that can arise through this kind of practice is really quite astounding and the ego can be revealed to be totally illusory. Such freedom here!
The non involvement I talk of is mainly on the level of the mind and doesn’t necessarily preclude a busy involved life, although it may for some. I don’t recommend reliquinshing family or responsibilities in general. I also value ethical principles such as the golden rule, sound physical and mental health and often recommend counselling and professional help where applicable – I’ve found these not only improve one’s quality of life, but greatly enhances and quickens the spiritual journey: ie. the letting go of egoic and addictive tendencies and insight into no-self comes much more easily. I hope that clarifies my position.
Comment: Thank you…..that really does clarify your position and I appreciate and agree with that completely. For some reason I did not take this away from the original post and that is why I responded as I did.
Comment: What you are saying Tom is a complete misunderstanding of Vedic Text my dear brother. Consider this text: “The Lord is the seer, and the EXTERNAL ENERGY which is seen, works as BOTH cause and effect in the cosmic manifestation. This external energy is known as maya or illusion, and through her agency only is the entire material manifestation made possible.” (Srimad Bhagavatam) Krishna also calls it “My Yoga Maya” To deem Maya evil is surely mistaken, as Maya is considered the chief power of the Lord itself! It is the dynamic aspect of God.
At the same time I resonate with what you are trying to say: Mainly, stay uninvolved with the intense impulse to manipulate, coerce, and squeeze this dynamic aspect of God into a narrow self-serving vision.
Tom: Thanks for your comment and also for your later comment trying to see where I am coming from on this – much appreciated. I don’t think what I am writing is a misunderstanding of the vedic texts, but it is only part of the deal (a very important part for most) that is being stressed here. This kind of writing emphasising tyaga and vairagya is found throughout the vedic texts dealing with self-realisation (ie. the jnana kanda) and is an essential part of their methodology. In vedanta and buddhism there are many scriptures repeatedly saying how vile the body is and how we should turn away from the world. This, much like parts of my post, is rhetoric to drive the point home. It is not to be taken as philosophical truth, rather a guide to practice, and very helpful it can be too. Yoga Vasishtha talks about this in detail, as do more recent Jnani’s such as Ramana Maharshi. Shankara states this attitude is a pre-requisite for liberation as does the Srimad Bhagavatam that you yourself quoted from. See here for an example: https://tomdas.com/…/20/the-ultimate-means-to-liberation/
In fact, indifference to the world is the flipside of turning towards God, at least initially. Later on (much much later on for most), when the ego has been eschewed, all is seen to be One, but at that point there is no need for a teaching as all has been seen to be One and resolution has been ‘achieved’. But if we start saying all is one without negating the ego-world or turning towards the divine aspect, then all we have is an ego claiming all is one: suffering continues and the true depth insight never dawns. This is one reason why renunciation is so valued in all the scriptures of the great traditions of the world. My personal experience is that sharing this style of teaching allows the divine to pour in much more readily as the attachments have been wonderfully effaced. Ramana talks about this here: https://tomdas.com/2015/08/19/is-the-world-an-illusion/
I’ve always loved the gospels and I’ve been collecting some quotes of Jesus recently. I know you have affinity for the gospels too, so I hope you don’t mind if I add them here. Consider Jesus when he says the following in the Gospels – why does he say the following if all is God, if all is already One?:
“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” 1 John 2:15-17 or
“If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and EVEN HIS OWN LIFE, he cannot be My disciple.” Luke 14:26 or
“So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.” Luke 14:33 or
“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23-24) or
“Don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.”James 4:4 or
“He [Jesus] turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.'” Matthew 16:23 or
One day Jesus invited a man to follow Him and become His disciple—but the man refused. He said he would follow Jesus later, but first he wanted to go bury his father. Jesus responded, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead” Matthew 8:22.
So, if all is one, why did Jesus value renunciation to such a high degree? His renunciation is much more extreme than suggested in my post, and he embodied an extreme renunciation in his life.
If you read it, what I have written above in the OP is not much different to practice instructions such as ‘be still’, or ‘be the witness’ or ‘surrender everything to the feet of the Lord’ or ‘rest as the I AM’. Blessings to you
Comment: Hi Tom, in your elaboration above (thanks to various comments being placed) you demonstrate in my opinion a thorough understanding of how teachings work and a willingness to apply what is necessary when it is necessary – skillful means.
Wouldn’t you agree, that one of the ‘pitfall hallmarks’ on the spiritual journey is for a traveler to become overly identified with the particular part of the process they are in and when insight in that phase happens then there is the belief or assumption ‘this is it’ and then a focus which is exclusively on that tends to happen and inevitably any sharing becomes critical of anything different thinking ‘that’s not it’.
My view is that when this happens, it’s a display that someone’s ‘current truth’ has become the teaching without the holding of a broader perspective of what a teaching really is, what teachings really are – a process, requiring different means at different times along the way. It’s blatantly obvious that many different teachings say different things, even within a single teaching there are often many seeming contradictions, and yet, in practice they often act in unison supporting each other, dovetailing into one another, and taking over where another left off. The attitude amoung teachers and teachings would be better one of universal brotherhood where the whole is seen as needed and supporting the growth of everyone including the teachers and seekers.
If criticism of a teaching is lobed, it’s often because there has been a projection by the critic whereby the teaching pointers have been interpreted to have the intention of conveying ‘a truth’. And as I see it, what you are saying in the initial post, as far as I can tell having regard for your broader teaching, is not conveyed with the belief that it is ‘truth’ but with the understanding of how teachings work and what they are. If someone says it’s invalid it’s most likely because they have made the mistake of mistaking a concept as ‘truth’ (their interpretation and mistake of what you’re saying, and in my assessment this dynamic is forced to happen when they are mistaking what they are saying as ‘truth’).
Every concept has its opposite concept.
If it’s all seen as a bunch of concepts and not ‘truth’, then who cares what other people put forward as a teaching, it’s not truth, it’s part of a very magical and mysterious transformation process in which there is undoubtable trust if one has been ushered through it, this even if occasionally we slip into forgetting this and being critical of other teachings.
This issue of mistaking concepts for truth is not an issue confined to the narrow topic of teaching but rather runs deep all the way to the core of our mistaken self identity which is why I felt compelled to comment here, as well as to support what I feel is a very good teaching coming from an impressive understanding.
Keep it up, I know how much time it takes to compile such thorough responses and it’s a testament to you given you also have a family with young kids and full time job as an MD.
Well done Tom.
Continued from 2 previous posts:
Problems with utilising conceptual tools
Generally speaking, the more you believe in the concept, the better it works, but conversely the harder it is to throw it away once the task at hand (rooting out the ego/’I am the body’ notion) has been completed.
Other problems with believing in the concepts is that it sets you against other traditions and teachings that either utilise other concepts, thus breeding division and sectarianism, and also it can lead to some unintended consequences, some of which can be quite unpleasant.
These include spiritual bypassing, which is where emotional and psychological issues are not dealt with properly as ‘I am not the body-mind so I have no issues’ or where the body is neglected and not properly respected as it is deemed to be ‘insentient, inert and not me’.
Another problem with utilising concepts is that the ego is perpetuated and can even be strengthened during this part of the teaching. Eventually it can be seen that all teachings are also subtle ways of continuing/perpetuating the egoic process which is itself based on the illusion of being a separate doer-entity. Until then, these conceptual teachings and practices based upon these concepts may be useful, but eventually we see that all teachings are potential obstacles. Why? Because Freedom is already fully present, and on a subtle level all teachings assume that Freedom is not already here and reinforce the notion that this moment is deficient in some way.
You can probably think of other negatives of this approach yourself, and perhaps have seen spiritual seekers on this journey fall into one of these traps.
To be continued in a future post: Practicing knowledge