Q. So, what happens when you die?
How can you know what happens when you die? No matter how you justify it, no matter how many psychic intuitions or spiritual experiences you have, the truth is that you don’t know for sure what happens after death. This question may perhaps be answered by science in the future, but we are not there yet.
Think of a time when you were utterly convinced something was true, but now you look back and realise how wrong you were. Knowledge also comes and goes. Perspectives change as we grow and mature and experience different things.
Enlightenment is beyond knowledge. Enlightenment does not depend on knowledge or the mind. Unlike knowledge and states of mind, Enlightenment cannot be attained – it is already here.
The above is an extract from the following post: Who cares about freedom?
Not that which comes and goes,
But that which knows both comings and goings;
Not that which is confused or clear,
But that which sees both confusion and clarity;
Not that which is happy or depressed,
But that which knows both happiness and depression;
Not that which swells with pride, or is deflated by humiliation,
But that which sees both pride and humiliation, and their effects;
Not that which is damaged by disease or benefited by medicine,
But that which knows both disease and health;
Not that which has desires and fears,
But that which sees both attraction and aversion;
Not that which judges or is open-minded,
But that which knows judgement and open-mindedness.
Not that which thinks or acts,
But that to which both thoughts and actions appear;
Not the ear, tongue, skin, eyes or nose,
But that to which smell, taste, sensation, vision and sound appear;
That which, in our experience,
is always present,
and unblemished by experiences;
looks with constancy,
always seeing things as they are;
cannot be lost or removed,
is effortlessly present,
and is the innermost essence of your experience;
Know yourself to be that.
Turn away from thought.
Turn away from that web of chatter,
from that activity of apparent separation and all the existential pain it brings.
Turn away from all that self-imposed suffering.
Rest a while, my friend:
You deserve it, you deserve that much.
Take a rest…
…be that space in which all things appear but on which nothing leaves a mark.
…know yourself as that.
(you are already that)
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.
Annamalai Swami: Bhagavan watched me very closely in the years that I served him in the ashram. One time I went to the Mother’s temple where many people were talking about worldly matters.
Bhagavan called me back, saying, ‘Why should you go to that crowd? Don’t go to crowded places. If you move with the crowd, their vasanas will infect you.’
Bhagavan always encouraged me to live a solitary life and not mix with other people. That was the path he picked for me. Other people got different advice that was equally good for them.
But while he actively discouraged me from socialising, he also discouraged me from sitting quietly and meditating during the years that I was working in the ashram. In this period of my life, if Bhagavan saw me sitting with my eyes closed he would call out to me and give me some work to do.
On one of these occasions he told me,
‘Don’t sit and meditate. It will be enough if you don’t forget that you are the Self. Keep this in your mind all the time while you are working. This sadhana will be enough for you. The real sadhana is not to forget the Self. It is not sitting quietly with one’s eyes closed. You are always the Self. Just don’t forget it.’
Bhagavan’s way does not create a war between the mind and the body. He does not make people sit down and fight the mind with closed eyes. Usually, when you sit in meditation, you are struggling to achieve something, fighting to gain control over the mind. Bhagavan did not advise us to engage in this kind of fight. He told us that there is no need to engage in a war against the mind, because mind does not have any real, fundamental existence. This mind, he said, is nothing but a shadow. He advised me to be continuously aware of the Self while I did the ordinary things of everyday life, and in my case, this was enough.
The above is an excerpt taken from Final Talks by Annamalai Swami, p. 67
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.
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
This post follows on from my previous 3 posts relating to the body:
- Do you know for certain that you are the body?
- Are you or are you not the body?
- Why does understanding the body matter?
Seeing this is not always enough
However, for many people simply seeing there is no doer is not enough. Why? Well we have lived our lives for many years with the deeply ingrained belief that we are doers, with the belief that we are the creator of our thoughts and instigators of our actions. This habitual belief is not so easily washed away, and even when seen, it can continue to operate and cause us to suffer.
In vedanta a common methodology used to counteract this is to utilise a concept that opposes and counteracts the ignorance:
‘I am not the body’ is a tool by which one can weed out the ‘I am the body’ notion.
Practice of the knowledge ‘I am not the body’ is a conceptual tool by which one can weed out the belief in ‘I am the body’ concept.
Note that ‘I am not the body’ is a concept. If believed in, ie. if considered to be genuinely true, it would be a belief. You do not have to believe a concept is true in order to benefit from it. You can use the concept either way, whether you believe in it or not.
To be continued in my next post: Integrating the understanding of no-doer
The following are adapted from recent Facebooks posts of mine
The body-mind entity can accept, reject or be indifferent to things. This is relative acceptance and is an action that can be performed. Awareness is all-accepting, always embracing ‘what is’. This is total/absolute acceptance and is not something that you can do, but something that can be recognised as already being here.
Awareness cannot accept or reject anything, as it does nothing. It just is: present and aware. All actions occur at the level of the body and mind (and world).
Awareness could be said to unconditonally/choicelessly ‘accept’ everything that occurs within it, in the same way a mirror ‘choicelessly accepts’ the reflection within it.
…but actually, as this example illustrates, the mirror-like awareness is not actually doing anything apart from ‘being itself’.
In the way I speak about this, awareness cannot identify with anything. It is only the mind that identifies with/as the mind.
Or to put it differently, thought imagines it’s a thinker and believes itself.
Awareness is ever-free, just like the mirror in the example above
Through identifying with choiceless awareness/consciousness for sometime, the ego/doer is seen through and no longer identified with. Then the identification as being choiceless awareness/consciousness also can be dropped.
What we are left with is ‘just this’: simple, direct, beyond words. This is the ‘realm beyond verbal teachings’.
Here the apparent duality conceptualised by differentiating (viveka) between that-which-changes (objects) and that which doesn’t change in our experience (the subject, I) is resolved into non-duality.