What is the Self
What is the Self?
Considering the inordinate time and effort spent in the search for happiness one might expect the world to be overflowing with happy people. Why isn't it?
Because we are looking where it isn't.
Where is it then?
In the cave of the Heart the sages say.
Within yourself. It is not 'out there' in the world.
OK, what is it then?
Your innermost Self, whole and complete limitless awareness.
Sounds great, very non-dual, but I've been around. What's the catch? To realize it do I have to get a guru, join his or her vast organization and work day and night doing 'selfless service' to burn off my karma? You need to know that I have great karma and it doesn't help; I'm still dissatisfied who I am. Perhaps you're going to suggest that I tithe to keep the guru jetting around in the lap of luxury 'awakening' people? Forget it, I'm still paying off my Visa for all the weekend enlightenment intensives I've taken the last few years. And it so happens that everyone I've met who has had an awakening has fallen back to sleep, myself included. Maybe you'd like me to become a 'devotee' of one the recent crop of avatars. Don't bother. Avatars are a dime a dozen it seems. Anyone with a couple of epiphanies under his or her spiritual belt is an avatar these days. I also hope you're not trying to sell me on tantra. I fell for that in India in the Eighties and all I got for my trouble was venereal disease, a lot of heartbreak and an unholy craving for sex. And for God's sake don't tell me there is someone out there who can 'transmit' enlightenment at will. If that was possible the whole world would be enlightened by now. I've been blessed with more than my fair share of shaktipats, satoris, epiphanies and fleeting samadhis direct from the third eyes of all the so called 'great masters'...and I still don't know who I am. Finally, if you ask me to 'surrender' I may become violent. It's one of the most despicable cons in the guru's bag of tricks.
You are fed up! However, I appreciate your point of view.
What's to appreciate? I'm just very cynical about the whole spiritual business.
As well you should be. The world rightly suffers from an intense spiritual hunger and when you have a need people rush to fill it. Part of the problem stems from the fact that there are so many different opinions about the nature of enlightenment. And since no one can agree on what it is, there is no way that a seeker can dispassionately evaluate the many teachings and teachers vying for attention. The modern spiritual world is like a a huge unregulated stock market. Anyone can sell anything without fear of consequences. But buyer beware! Any fool who has 'awakened' or 'seen God' can hang out a shingle and start 'teaching.' And when this happens you are likely to swallow some self-deluded person's beliefs and opinions as truth. Guru has become just another profession these days, a cozy limited identity offering the prospect of wealth, power and adulation. There is nothing spiritual about spirituality. What you're feeling is reasonable.Don't worry, I'm not an avatar, I don't want your money and I'm not a guru.
So what do you have to offer?
An appreciation of why you've been unable to find what you're looking for.
And what would that be?
You are not clear about the nature of enlightenment. You think that enlightenment is something you can acheive through spiritual practice and a relationship with a guru.
How am I going to get enlightenment without doing something?
I understand the problem, but what good will spiritual practice and 'hanging out with a master' do....if you are already enlightened?
What do you mean 'already enlightened?'
What does the word enlightenment mean to you?
Freedom. Freedom from my mind, from suffering my desires and fears.
Yes, this is how scripture defines it. But how can you get free if you are already free?
Yes, you just imagine that you are bound by your likes and dislikes, your fears and desires.
I am bound by them.
OK. Then who are you?
Who am I?
Yes, who is bound?
Me. John Smith.
And who is John Smith? When you say that I have no idea what it means. It seems very abstract and insubstantial to me.
Abstract and insubstantial?
Yes. What do those words refer to?
Do you want my life history?
Well, it may be interesting but is your life history you?
What do you mean?
I mean the things that happened to you are just things that happened. To whom did they happen? Do they make you who you are or do you exist apart from them?
I see what you mean. I exist apart from them. They are always outside me, they happen to me but they are not me.
Yes. Now tell me if the things that happen to you change you.
Of course they do.
I contend that they do not change you, that they cannot affect you.
Then obviously we are talking about two different people.
You're right. But I say that you are not a person, that you have an identity that is not limited. If you take yourself to be John then you have to suffer the limitations that this concept places on you.
But if you are not who you think you are, if you are whole and complete, then you are always free.
How is that?
If you are not a person and you are whole and complete already, you will not try to complete yourself by obtaining objects and experiences. The very idea that you should be better or different or have something you don't have would not trouble you as it does now.
Are you saying that I am trying to get what I want because I believe that it will complete me or free me.
Yes, indeed. Now tell me if anything you've gotten in life has fulfilled you.
Yes and no. Yes, it makes me feel momentarily whole and complete, that is to say happy, but this feeling never lasts.
Therefore the answer is no, because when this feeling wears off, your sense of incompleteness returns and you are faced with the need to fulfill the next desire that promises to make you feel good again. Is that correct?
My God, you seem to know me very well.
It's not like that. This is how it is with everyone who doesn't know who they are.
So who am I?
You are non-dual Awareness.
And therefore you are already free.
Because freedom depends on another principle, bondage. But the fact that you are non-dual means that you cannot be two or many different things.
OK. If this is true why don't I feel non-dual? Why don't I feel complete?
What does non-duality feel like?
Well...let's see...I'm not sure.
That's right. I doesn't feel like anything because there are not two principles in reality, you and what you are feeling or experiencing.
This is a very radical idea. It certainly contradicts common sense. Could you explain it further?
When you experience something you believe that what you are experiencing is something other than yourself. But when you investigate the nature of the object that you experience and its relationship to you, the subject, you find that there is no difference.
Could you give me an example?
Sure. Where do you experience that tree?
Over there by the house.
Wrong. You experience it in your awareness. Stimuli come from the tree and pass through your eyes and are recorded in your awareness.
You are correct. I just spoke without thinking.
OK. Now, answer this question.
How far is your awareness from the tree?
Yes, is there a gap between your awareness and the tree appearing in it?
No. The experienced tree is awareness.
Very good! The awareness takes the form of the tree. Now let me ask you one more question.
How far are you from awareness?
(A long silence)
Wow! That was incredible.
I realized that I am awareness, that the tree is me but I am free of the tree.
Yes, this is what I meant when I said you were not John. John is only a name that appears in awareness. It is not you.
I get it. It seems so simple. I always thought enlightenment was a big deal. This is quite natural. In fact I was always awareness. I was never incomplete.
So what should I do now? How can I maintain this state?
This state of awareness.
You can't maintain it.
Don't tell me that. You mean it is just like all other experiences?
If it is an experience, yes. But is it?
Well, a few minutes ago I was experiencing frustration. I was dissatisfied with myself and my life and now I feel just fine.
And you are afraid that the feeling will go.
It may go, but will you go?
Will I go?
Yes, will you disappear with the feeling?
No, of course not.
So tell me. Is the feeling there because you are awareness or is it there because of some experience you just had.
It seems to be there because of the experience of myself as awareness.
Yes, it seems that way but tell me this: how do you know that feeling?
Because I am aware of it.
Correct. So are you the feeling of oneness with awareness or are you the awareness of the feeling of oneness?
I am the awareness.
Right. Enlightenment is not an experience of oneness with awareness. It is the knowledge that I am awareness.
Therefore it is pointless to try to regain this feeling.
Absolutely. When the feeling stops it does not mean you are no longer awareness. It means that you, awareness, illumine the feeling that replaces it. All experiences take place in time, in the apparently dualistic reality. They do not last. The only thing that transcends each and every feeling...the whole procession of feeling/experience you call your life... is you, awareness. You are not a feeling. You are not an experience. So stop worrying about loosing something that you are sure to lose. This is not to say that you won't have this feeling again, that it cannot become a more or less permanent fixture in your awareness. But whether or not you feel good all the time has to do with the nature of your mind. If your mind rests in awareness, draws its inspiration from you it will basically be happy.
But whether it is happy or not does not really concern me as awareness. Right?
Right. It seems to me that there is nothing I can do from now on but I feel that this is not the end of it.
It is the end of it but if you feel that it isn't then you need to make your self knowledge firm. You need to gain confidence in it.
How does that work?
The knowledge of who you are takes place in that part of awareness called the mind. Until now it has been habitually thinking of you as an incomplete and limited being. Yet now it has another idea: that you are limitless, whole and complete awareness. The mind is like a muscle. It has grown big and strong by thinking the same limiting self thought for your whole life. It is this idea that produces all the boredom, depression and frurstration. It is not going to easily accept this new self understanding. It has become accustomed to the old identity. So it needs to be retrained. It needs to learn to assert this new identity. Right now, as you are in the midst of this experience, it is clear to the mind who you are. But when the experience ends your self knowledge should not end. It should serve you no matter what state the mind is in.
This make perfect sense so what should I do?
Study the teachings of Vedanta that are on my website. Keep your mind fixed on the Self. And when you have a doubt come visit me or call me or send me an e-mail.
Would e-mail work?
Sure, if enlightenment is a question of understanding. People think their experiences create their understanding but experiences have no power to educate. They are insentient. What you experience is not what you experience.
What do you mean?
What you experience is what you interpret your experience to mean. You are a conscious being and so you can interpret and evaluate things. How you evaluate things is your experience. I recently spoke with two people who had visited the same guru. One reported that he was a completely completely enlightened compassionate selfless being and the other that he was a manipulative energy sucker. And both took their experience to be true and real. The reality is that there is no permanent reality in objects. If there were then everyone could agree on what they are. But objective reality is constantly changing and depends on something other than itself for its existence so you cannot actually make a definitive statement about it.
How does this relate to Self knowledge?
Self knowledge concerns itself with how things are known. It is about who knows them. The 'who' that knows things is the same in everyone. It is not an individual. It is always present. It is the very self of everyone. It cannot be experienced because you are it. Or if you insist on experiential language it is pointless to say that it can be experienced because you are experiencing it all the time whether you like it or not. You can never not experience it. Therefore it is a waste of time to try to experience it.
And therefore the problem is ignorance. The only solution to ignorance is knowledge. So these teachings re-awaken the Self knowledge that is in you. When you have assimliated them completely you always know that you are Awareness. This knowledge is a real life saver because it heals the split between what you are and what you think you are. It kills the lie that makes your life so limited. As long as you struggle to experience yourself you are saying that you are not yourself, you are saying that you are not free. This is a painful conflict because you can never be anything but what you are.
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