A Spiritual Conundrum

Understanding the difference between the perceived and the perceiver is the essence of non-duality. The perceived is duality; the perceiver is non-duality. Duality allows the Absolute to experience its own creation, which it does through us, as we are an extension of the Absolute. But here’s the thing, because of duality we don’t realize this. See the problem?

You can’t ‘think’ your way through this. The mind won’t let you. The mind keeps you caught in a spiritual quagmire from which it’s impossible to extricate yourself. The truth lies in direct experience. Knowing doesn’t come from the mind. You must suspend thought to experience Truth.

In this video, Advaita Master Mooji explains the spiritual conundrum in which all seekers find themselves.

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Catch – 22

Here’s the thing. I can blog about non-duality and you can read about non-duality until the cows come home, but until there is direct experience, there is no real understanding.  Oh, there may be an intellectual understanding to a certain point, but no real ‘gut’ feeling of those ‘aha’ moments that tell us we really and truly get it. Direct experience is the real teacher. Direct experience is truth because it cannot be refuted. Unfortunately, it also cannot be proven by the usual scientific standards, but that doesn’t preclude its authenticity.  We need to let go of our limited views of reality.  Look around.  It’s time and it’s necessary.

Now, here’s the problem.  You can’t go looking for direct experiences. They creep up on you at totally unexpected times. Even if you have a regular contemplation or meditation practice, there is no guarantee that you will have a ‘brick falling on your head’ type of experience.  You can, certainly, but with consistent spiritual practice, the experiences tend to be cumulative and therefore culminate into a broader kind of understanding, which over time changes your views about things and you begin that wondrous, scary journey from which there is no return.  Still, those ‘right between the eyes’ sort of experiences are the ones that catch our attention. But, of course, we have to be open to them.

The good news is that stories of non-dual, watershed moments are not as rare as one might think.  Eckhart Tolle, in the introduction of his book, The Power of Now, describes his life up to the age of 29 as one of immense anxiety and dread “…interspersed with periods of suicidal depression.” One night, as he was suffering through his usual panic and dread, he thought, “I cannot live with myself any longer.”  He suddenly realized the strangeness of that thought. He began to question who he really was. Was he “… the “I” or the “self” that the “I” cannot live with?”  The duality that we all experience smacked him right between the eyes and he began to wonder if only one of them (the ‘I’ or the ‘self’) was real. His spiritual transformation occurred at that moment.

Fritjof Capra in the preface of his book the Tao of Physics, describes his non-dual experience of ‘oneness’ occurring on a beach, where he suddenly became aware of the ‘…cascades of energy coming down from outer space, in which particles were created and destroyed in rhythmic pulses…” and how his own atoms were participating in this cosmic dance. He suddenly began to see the similarities between modern physics and Eastern philosophy, which set him on the path of writing this book.

Direct experience usually leads us down a whole new path in life, as it did for Tolle and Capra. It expands our awareness and life is never the same. We begin to rise above the tedium to see the big picture. But do we really need to have direct experiences in order to experience changes in our perception?

I’m not sure what the answer to that question is, so we’re stuck in a spiritual catch-22.  How do we get to a place where we can begin to perceive non-duality without direct experience? How about cultivating a bit of tolerance? Tolerance removes the obstacles that lead to compassion and kindness. That would be a huge step forward from where we are now. It requires that we lift our awareness and place it on something other than our own self-interests. When we get there, we begin thinking of ways in which we can be of service to others.  Ask yourself, “Am I serving myself or am I serving others?”  Service to others might just put you on the path toward non-dualism.

Every age thinks it has all the answers. We need to get over ourselves and realize that it’s time we wake up and move past the limited conceptual, man-made parameters of thought and embrace a more encompassing, compassionate view of reality in an effort to solve humanity’s problems. Einstein said, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”  We need a shift of consciousness – now. We can put our awareness anywhere we want, so put it where it will do the most good.

Heart vs. Mind – Reconciling Knowledge and Wisdom in Spiritual Practice – Part 2

Wisdom as truth

Humans cannot come to Truth through any organization, through any creed, through any dogma, priest, or ritual, not through any philosophic knowledge or psychological technique. They have to find it through the understanding of the contents of their own minds, through observation and not through intellectual analysis or introspective dissection.” ~ J. Krishnamurti

Krishnamurti recognized that “Truth, being limitless, unconditioned, unapproachable by any path whatsoever, cannot be organized…” What he meant, of course, was that no amount of intellectual study or organized ritual can bring truth. And truth is the essence of wisdom. There has to be some internalization process that happens, some form of direct experience, which brings the seeker that which he seeks. Being regarded as one of the 20th century’s greatest philosophers, it is interesting to note that Krishnamurti failed his courses at London University. And even though his brother, Nitya, passed with honors, Krishnamurti’s professors claimed that he had a much wider grasp of large concepts. His ‘mind’ was the bigger of the two.

Thinking and doing from the heart

As we have seen, the limitations of thought are many. Eckhart Tolle in his “Power of Now” addressed this issue by reminding us that one of the ways it limits is by trapping us in time and space. “This is what I think today, tomorrow I might think something else.”  See what I mean? Tolle goes on to use the following example –  If you asked your cat or dog what time it was would it look at a clock? Of course not, its answer would be “now”.  If you asked your pet where it is, you think it would say “I’m in the living room?’  No, it would say “here”.  Staying present seems to be a criteria for reaching that part of ourselves that transcends time and space. We can achieve this in deep states of meditation. All matters of form (time and space included) dissolve as we lose the boundaries of our physical bodies and nothing is left but our true selves. Our minds don’t get in the way anymore. Since thought implies the mind, it can be argued that thought arising from the true self or heart is not thought at all.  What is it then? Maybe it’s truth, wisdom. That indefinable something that can change the way we see the world.

A friend of mine e-mailed me recently about not always knowing the right thing to do in certain situations. She commented that she “is not sure what the boundaries are. I’ve stepped on enough landmines to be wary. Hate those explosions!” She is approaching with her analytical mind, instead of seeing the situation from her heart. Maybe we need to forget about boundaries. Maybe we need to love those explosions. If we think with our hearts instead of our minds we will be acting from a place of love…..and wisdom. The boundaries fall away and transformation, the alchemy, begins.

So ask your self, “How do I see? With my eyes? My mind? My heart? Try using less mind and more heart. See only with your heart. Your mind doesn’t know what you want. Listen with your heart and it will tell you. I asked a wise soul what my current preoccupation with “heart” was all about. I was told, “Heart is love. Love comes from the heart. Do everything from the heart.” Which, of course, means do everything from a place of love. The Beatles’ said it all with their lyrics, “…love is all there is.”

The Pitfalls of direct experience

We applaud and reward academic achievement. Pride is felt as one can attach letters at the end one’s name. One’s salary and status usually improve. But just as our egos can be stroked by acquiring knowledge, it can also be deluded into feeling superior through experiences. We begin to judge our ‘progress’ by another arbitrary standard. As our searching has us abandon trying to find the answers in books and we begin to experience what we have read about, another kind of pride is felt. We might begin to feel competitive thinking “Look at my experience. It’s better than yours. Therefore I must be further along the spiritual path.”  This is normal in the beginning. But we must remember that alchemy, the true transformation of knowledge into wisdom, does not begin until we get past our egos. My teacher has always told us that if we feel we must gauge our progress we should, “look to the changes in our character.” When that happens, your ego gets out of the way, and a kind of humility sets in. A simplicity in one’s character emerges. That simplicity is wisdom.

Taking the first step

Become the watcher. William Ury, the author of many books on conflict resolution, refers to this as, “going to the balcony.” He suggests that when you find yourself in conflict remove yourself mentally and become the observer of what is happening. Go to the balcony of the theater and watch the play. An interesting choice of metaphor. Of course, you don’t have to be in conflict to do this. It is a good idea to watch all you do, think, say, feel. Watch as if you are a character in a play. Watch as your role is being played out. This provides detachment from any situation, thought or emotion.  The more detached we are the more present we become because we are disentangled from the mind and the judgments that keep the mind going. The ‘watcher’ is coming from a different place, the present moment.  The watcher then has the direct connection to heart.  It removes the middleman, the ego, from the play.

We can all use a little alchemy in our lives. Think how the world could change if our actions were led by our hearts, our inner wisdom, instead of the external machinations of the egotistical mind? Healing the universe is an inside job.

Heart vs. Mind – Reconciling Knowledge and Wisdom in Spiritual Practice –Part 1

I was always a good student in school, placing a high regard on learning and acquiring knowledge, even at a young age. My mother always wanted me to go into some kind of profession. She recognized that society placed importance on these externals. Having a curiosity about life and all of its workings, I wanted to be a scientist. I played with chemistry sets and microscopes. Instead, I became a teacher, and though life has taken me through a number of diversions, teaching remains a profession I love.

I approached my spiritual seeking through the same academic lens I viewed everything else. In the beginning, I guess like most of us, it was all about learning something. The idea of directly experiencing what I read about never really occurred to me. I felt it was out of my reach. I didn’t have a teacher, a guru, available to dispel the darkness. So I stayed in my ‘learning’ mode for a long time. The more I learned, however, the more restless I became. I began to notice that I was missing something. What was the point of all this knowledge? Nothing was really changing for me and wasn’t that the point of all this searching?  I began to ask myself, “Is that all there is?”

Wisdom as Alchemy

the goal of yoga, union with Spirit, can only be known through experience, not through simply relying on understanding with the mind.”  ~ Upanishads

If knowledge is power, then wisdom is alchemy. It’s true that most of us get wiser as we get older, simply because living has transformed or transmuted what we know of life into something more profound.  Our experiences change us. How many of you (of a certain age) have said to someone that you are no longer the person you were 10 or 20 years ago? But if you try to describe that ‘new you’ to put words to it, you may find that difficult. You can say you are a ‘freer person” “stronger” “more compassionate” etc. but do those words truly convey the metamorphosis you know you have undergone through your life or do they fall short. Does that explain why when we try to give advice to a young person, he/she doesn’t understand anything we attempt to say, even if “it’s for his/her own good.” Young people respond to the concrete, the immediate. Wisdom is neither – knowledge is.

When I began my ‘active’ spiritual searching more than 20 years ago, I read as much as I could get my hands on. I tried to memorize the spiritual jargon thinking that if I could use those words in a conversation then I would be regarded as being on a spiritual path. If there were people who “knew “ more than I did, I felt that they were further along on the path than I was. I felt inadequate. I thought I had to “know” something. But it wasn’t long before I realized none of the mental gyrations I went through qualified me as a spiritual seeker. Listening to others explaining “this is this …and that is that….” only left me with more of an empty feeling. And words, no matter how many or valid, could not fill that emptiness.

So how powerful exactly is knowledge? Swami Muktananda said, “Knowledge of the external world is the root of all sorrow when it seeps inside and we identify with it.”  He goes further when he quotes the Siva Sutra 1.2, jnanam bandhah, “Knowledge is bondage.”  If we live steeped in our social agreements, that is to say the labels or false identities we use to define ourselves and our place on this planet, then we are missing the essence of who and what we are. The mind has created and perpetuates the illusion of separation.  Only when we free ourselves from the mind, can we begin to understand our true nature. This is when the alchemy – and real transformation – begins.  So it is only when knowledge is treated as an end in itself do we get into trouble. We need to get out of our heads and begin experiencing with our hearts. That is where wisdom lives.

Direct Experience vs. Intellect

Most of us do realize this on some level. And when we do, we usually try to augment our intellectual searching through some kind of sadhana or spiritual practice. Meditation is a common way to still the clamoring of the mind so something else (our true selves) can be acknowledged and heard. The four yogas (used to attain union with Spirit), Raja, Jnana, Bhakti and Karma are sometimes treated as separate paths, but that too is an illusion

created by the mind. When studied with the heart, separation dissolves into oneness. The idea of a “path” which has form disappears.  From that experience of oneness comes wisdom and the union with spirit we are striving to attain.  Direct experience transcends the mind and therefore thought.  As soon as we try to put words to describe our experience it seems to diminish it somehow. Something gets lost in the translation.

Something else begins to happen. I’ve noticed that I no longer care about the ‘workings’ of spirituality from a mental level. I don’t particularly care to have anything explained to me. My teacher gave a wonderful example of this. None of us are really concerned with the mechanics of how a TV works we just want to click the remote to get our programs. When you turn on the faucet to get water, do you really care where it comes from or how it gets to you? I don’t know about you, but I don’t. Indeed there was a time when I would’ve wanted to know and understand everything. The need to neatly label and file away information into mental compartments is disappearing. What is happening to me? I seem to be suffering from a shocking lack of curiosity.

I’m not diminishing intellectual curiosity, I’m just warning against giving it too much credit. It is a known fact that the greatest spiritual beings that have walked this planet were not Ph.d.s. Some never had any traditional schooling. The East does not recognize this as an impediment to spiritual growth or the attainment of wisdom. Only here in the West do we still hang on to outward forms. We always need to know a person’s credentials before we will even listen to what they have to say, much less judge it as acceptable.  (Part 2 will follow in my next post…)