Shining World

I Am the Light and the Knower of the Light

GS: When I close my eyes, I see light, is it purusha seeing sattva?

Sundari: The light you (Purusha) are seeing is the reflected self in the reflected medium of sattva guna, which is the true nature of the mind unmodified by rajas and tamas.  When rajas and tamas are in balance with sattva, we can experience very high states and siddhis, like deep epiphanies, seeing lights, etc. All three gunas make up the reflected medium and are objects known to, you, the Self. The mind in sattva is experiencing its true nature as bliss, which is why these high spiritual states are much after in the spiritual world. But sattvic bliss does not last. The true bliss of the Self does not depend on sattva guna. You are always only ever experiencing the Self regardless of what guna the mind is in because the Self is not a state.  It is the knower of all states, as it is the knower of the mind itself. Therefore, it does not really matter what state the mind is in, though of course, as jivas we aim for sattva because we want to experience peace of mind. 

Purusha, the Self, is the light that makes light possible.  As the jiva, our vision cannot help but be organized around light, we cannot see anything without it. The same brain responses that enable us to see a tree or a person as a tree or a person, instead of a ghostly swarm of buzzing atoms, also enable us to experience the Self every time we open our eyes. We just have to know what we are looking at unless we have Self-knowledge. We are always seeing Purusha because this is a nondual reality. The Self is a seer that never began or ceases, the all-seeing eye or “I” that sees only itself because there are no objects for it to see.  It is self-effulgent as there is nothing but itself.  It would be more appropriate to say that the Self, seeing only itself, is that which knows the seer with reference to the seen, only when Maya is operating.  The Self-aware Self appears as a seer; but it never actually is a seer, unless seeing refers to its own Self. 

Whereas, when ignorance is operating the jiva thinks that the seer is different from the seen, the subject and object are different.  This is where yoga and Vedanta part company because yoga aims to have special experiences to prove that you are ‘enlightened’. But Vedanta says that no experience can give you what you already have. You already are enlightened because you are the Self; you just don’t know what that means if Maya (ignorance) deludes the mind. Seeing a light internally is no different than seeing any object. If discrimination between satya (that which is always present and unchanging) and mithya (that which is not always present and always changing) is operating, then all you need to do is identify with satya, NOT sattva. Anything in mithya is known to be not-self and not a big deal. So, you saw a light, so what? Did that experience remove ignorance of your true nature and produce unbroken Self-knowledge? No, it did not.

Swami Muktananda of Siddhi Yoga infamy started the bogus idea that inquirers had to seek the ‘blue pearl’ of enlightenment, a blue flame or light which appeared in meditation. He taught that unless you saw this light you were not enlightened, which is total ignorance. No experience, however spiritual it may be or whatever powers it seems to give you (siddhis), can take the place of Self-knowledge. There is no greater siddhi or power than Self-Knowledge because, unlike an experience, it does not end. While seeing a light in meditation or any other spiritual experience points to Awareness so does everything. All objects, whether material or subtle like a spiritual experience come from the Self but are not the Self.  Just as your reflection in the mirror is you and you can see it thanks to the light of Consciousness shining on the mind, but the reflection is not the same as you.

Furthermore, spiritual experiences are only useful if their true meaning is assimilated in a qualified mind. There is nothing wrong with spiritual experiences, don’t get me wrong. But they are temporary. They are like a slow-release time capsule designed to impart knowledge. And that knowledge is that you are the knower of the experience, that which makes all experience possible, the Self/Awareness. You are always present, with or without special light effects appearing in the mind.

So, in short, don’t chase the light because you are the light!

GS: Recently I interacted with Neuroscientist who does research on meditation. He observed that in case of effortless meditation, this nondual awareness happened in one neural circuit. This had happened for me long ago without knowing what it is. Now I don’t change any experience, as you keep on saying the self is knowledge only.

Sundari: Meditation only really qualifies as meditation if it is effortless.  Trying hard to meditate really cancels itself out. There have been many studies on the benefits of meditation and though this research is considered ‘soft science’, I think it is pretty clear that meditation is very beneficial for the mind.  But Vedanta differs greatly from yoga, which is a generic term that covers all attempts to gain freedom through action, such as meditation or siddhis. No action taken by a limited entity such as the jiva can produce a limitless result, moksa. While yoga is a necessary aid to self-inquiry in purifying the mind for it, it does not take the place of self-inquiry.

Self-inquiry is also an action, but it differs from yoga in that the fruit of inquiry is Self-knowledge, which is limitless. Self-inquiry is not about creating change in one’s experience, though it usually does produce that because the jiva changes how it relates to objects. It no longer chases objects for happiness because it knows the joy is in itself, not the objects. Self-knowledge cancels the doer whereas all other paths leave the main problem, the doer, intact.  In the case of spiritual types who believe they are special or enlightened when they have heightened ‘spiritual’ experiences, we say that doer has enlightenment sickness. The ego has co-opted the knowledge and the gift of knowledge the spiritual experience contained was not assimilated.

Some clever types argue that Self-knowledge is useless because it does not change experience, and that the only reason people seek enlightenment is that they suffer, so they want to change their experience.  But what they miss is the change that experience offers is temporary unless Self-knowledge obtains. When the mind is pure and Self-knowledge firm, it enjoys a nearly constant state of bliss that you can never obtain through the pursuit of objects (all experience) in samsara

As I said above, any practice that enhances sattva, which is the springboard for Self-knowledge to obtain, is encouraged as an essential part of self-inquiry, so meditation is good. But meditation is not a valid means of knowledge. Unless one has realized that one is not the meditator but the one who knows the meditator, meditation can keep one stuck for years trying to have an experience of the Self.  Which many meditators do have, but the problem is: the identification with the experiencer/meditator is still there.  And when the meditation ends, so does the bliss. The ‘lights’ go out!

In this way, the experience of Self-realization does not necessarily lead to freedom, moksha.  Therefore, so many meditators become frustrated, trying to get the experience of limitlessness in meditation back.  Even if they succeed, they will most likely “lose” the Self-realization once again because the knowledge that they are that which makes all experience possible, i.e., the Self, escapes them. Meditation is no different from any other activity done to achieve a specific result—unless it is practiced with karma yoga.

Meditation is just another object appearing in you, allowing the reflection of the Self to appear in a sattvic mind.  However, seeing as no experience can take place without you, Consciousness, and because as Consciousness you are actionless, no special experience is necessary to experience the Self. You are always only ever experiencing the Self, whether you are meditating or not. Although we can have an experience of the reflection of the Self in a pure, sattvic mind in meditation, this is not enough to set us free of the doer.  For this, we need to expose the mind to self-inquiry and allow Self-knowledge to remove our ignorance (avidya).

Self-inquiry is the application of Self-knowledge, which states that Consciousness is our true nature. Both knowledge and ignorance are objects appearing in you, Consciousness. Keeping this knowledge in mind and continually contemplating on it is self-inquiry, which is why self-inquiry is different from meditation.  The knowledge is maintained by an act of will. Whereas in meditation the knowledge appears only during a particular experience, which ends. Self-inquiry is superior to meditation because the doer does not need to maintain a particular state and wait for the knowledge.  He or she has the knowledge already and applies it continually.  Most meditators do not know the value of knowledge whereas inquirers do.  That is why the meditators are meditating.  Knowledge may arise in meditation or it may not.  If it does, we say meditation is a ‘leading error.’  But even if meditation does lead to knowledge of the “unbroken I thought” (akandakara vritti), the knowledge does not always stick.

Om and prem


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