Showing posts with label nirvana. Show all posts
Showing posts with label nirvana. Show all posts

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Yin and Yang of Meditation

Meditation has many benefits and no drawbacks (except for those not mentally balanced). But there are certainly yin and yang aspects of meditation. 

For example, meditation can be used for the benefit of the ego: concentration for the mind and vitality and self-awareness for the body. Or, meditation can be used to attune oneself to the higher Mind of the soul. 

Most of what is taught and most of those who practice meditation are seeking ego-oriented benefits such as calmness, inner peace, and mindfulness. Their meditation practice begins with the intention of  "I want.....this or that result." Since this intention is the basis for practically all ego-directed actions, few ever consider an alternative.

Among those who seek higher consciousness, meditation can take the form of an act of devotion, focusing on some form or image such as one's guru, a deity, or even a state of consciousness (such as samadhi, nirvana, moksha, etc.). The devotional approach can remain in the realm of an "I-Thou" act of worship or it can intend to or simply evolve into, merging into one's form of devotion.

There are those meditators who seek spiritual upliftment, consciousness, or even psychic powers for personal (ego) gratification! This can be the initial motivation behind meditation, or, it can be the result of back-sliding when the ego claims for itself the insights or powers which may appear as a result of one's otherwise sincere meditation practice. Such are the temptations that await the dedicated practitioner. 

And, let's face the truth here: the ego is our starting point even while ego transcendence is the well-established goal! A paradox to be sure. 

Let's pause for a moment to consider this "ego thing." Paramhansa Yogananda, the now-famous author of "Autobiography of a Yogi," defined the ego as "the soul identified with the body." Since ancient times and in the highest spiritual teachings of all great civilizations, our true nature and the goal of our existence is to "know thyself" as greater than the ego: as a child of the Infinite! As from the Vedas: "Tat twam asi." ("Thou art THAT!)

Admittedly, the details of what THAT is and how we realize THAT may vary in the fine print of scripture, commentary, and intellectual permutations. But beyond THAT there is no argument!

Returning now to where we left off: "devotion." As devotion is, in an energetic sense, the equivalent of dedication, a meditator (aka a "yogi") may not think of herself as being of a devotional temperament but the intensity of her focused dedication to meditation amounts to the same thing. A meditation intention and practice that seeks to still the mind by way of one-pointed focus on a mantra, sound, or other "meditation-object," and which essentially seeks to dissolve the ego-identity and sense of separateness, can be said to be a form of devotion, albeit more by concentration of the mind than by focusing upon expanding the heart's "natural love," though in fact the latter may be, and ultimately must be, the consequence.

Put another way, progress in meditation takes dedication and devotion to the goal and to the practice. Such dedication is surely a form of love as much as any classical feelings or forms that devotion might traditionally assume.

It can also be said that one always begins upon the spiritual path (and meditation) from the only point of reference we have: the ego! Gradually, as we progress, we morph into self-offering of the little self into the great Self as one's consciousness expands beyond the ego and body.

We see this transformation taking place in the lives of meditators who truly go deep into the practice. We even see amongst some of those who practice yoga postures a certain level of awakening that can rightly be called "spiritual" even if, initially, unintended.

At the risk of going into deep philosophical territory, there is another aspect of the yin and yang of meditation. It goes something like this (using non-technical terms whether from Vedanta, Shankhya, yoga, or Buddhism):

There's a part of ourselves that yearns for stability, constancy, and unchanging reality and truth. There's also a part of ourselves, which like all nature around us, that is always changing and which delights and invigorates in our creativity and engagement in life.

The reconciliation of these two could be described as the awakening of our ever-watchful Self (soul) into the awareness of and participation with the ever-changing reality of creation which swirls in flux around us.

By contrast, the ego, that part of our consciousness which identifies with the body, personality, and the seeming separateness of all created things (physical and mental), isn't so much watchful but wholly engaged. The difference between the ego's desires and emotions and itself simply doesn't exist. As a result, the ego experiences the ups, downs, boredom, and occasional peace in an unceasing and ultimately exhausting and monotonous inevitability. In short, we suffer, for no pleasure can be known without fearing and later experiencing its ending or its opposite. Pain, by contrast, feels "eternal" when we are overcome by it.  

The alternative to being awash in the ocean of emotion and change is to dive deep into the ocean of peace within. Thus is born the practice of entering into the mindful or watchful state. In the meditative state of quietude, the ceaseless rising and falling of our thoughts, energies and responses comes under our calm scrutiny. We can see flux for what it is: empty, fleeting, and separate from the Self. The deeper we go into this state the more we realize that we are and can be untouched by the waves at the surface of the sea of our senses (and our mind). 

The Shiva Self, recumbent and watchful, penetrates the center of the Shakti Self of prana, energy and creation even as the Shakti Self, in the presence of Shiva, inclines to be still to receive Shiva within her Self. 

This uniting of Observer, observing and observed
becomes a dance of Bliss, sometimes withdrawn and sometimes immanent in all creation. Even those descriptions which separate God the Father (the Infinite Spirit) from creation cannot fully satisfy the continuum of consciousness both within and without. 

Paramhansa Yogananda's famous poem, "Samadhi," flows in and out of creation even if it is also understood that Bliss stands apart and whole from the creation and serves as creation's Father-Mother. 

But such philosophical niceties go beyond, far beyond, anything practical and helpful for those engaged in meditation practices. Even for us, we find we flow in and out of our own creation (our mind's activity). 

Nonetheless, to experience a state unconditioned by awareness of body and ego identity is powerfully transforming, healing, and enlightening. Few meditators, I suspect, aspire to this state; fewer experience it. But not because it is beyond our means.

For indeed, this unconditioned state is the center of our Being and is always present. Whether by Self-inquiry ("Who am I?") or by inner stillness achieved through meditation practice, it exists perennially behind our mental flux. "Be still and know that I AM God." (Psalm 46:10).

Watching one's thoughts is a frequent instruction given as the practice of meditation. But I wonder how many of those using this technique are not, in fact, drawn forcibly into participating with their thoughts and their reactions to those thoughts (rather than remaining truly watchful and unaffected). 

The challenge of watching our thoughts is that our thoughts are the basis for our separateness. Our emotional response to our perceptions, moreover, cements our identity to those so-called realities. Like the oft given image of perceiving a snake in the dim light of dusk in the path ahead when in fact it is only a rope, we make our share of false conclusions and all too often proclaim, "That's my story and I'm sticking with it." The sense of separateness and its cocoon of beliefs, memories, opinions, desires, impressions, and fears is deeply embedded into our the matrix of our sense of self-identity.

In the East, the mind is considered the sixth sense: separate and apart from the Self. In the West, we think, as Descartes declared, "I think, therefore I am!"

Therefore, because thoughts are the issue, it is generally more useful to have and to focus upon a "meditation object." Universally, the breath is the simplest and most available "object" because we all breathe and no beliefs are necessary. There are other reasons as well. The watching of breath can be with or without a word formula or mantra. 

Other reasons for watching the breath include the observable fact that in the effort to concentrate deeply, we naturally hold or quiet the breath. It is the last obstacle to complete concentration. It is also, ironically, an excellent "object" of meditation for the reason that focusing on the breath can quiet the mind and when restless thoughts subside, the breath becomes quiet. Anyone who is given even a modest amount of training can demonstrate these facts and benefit from this practice immediately.

Thus it is that the breath has become (and likely always has been) the most common focus for meditation throughout time and the world.

But, it remains an "object" until or unless our sense of separateness begins to dissolve. One can say, intellectually, that we enter the breath or the breath enters us or anything else you want to say. But nothing that can be said can truly describe the experience of oneness. (All words require subject, verb, and object and this very logical necessity is inadequate to describe the state of being that is actually experienced in real time.)

The experience of oneness can occur spontaneously and does happen to many people, whether as children or adults. It can happen in meditation even when not held out as a goal or a possibility. But mostly it is best if the meditator seeks the state and has some training and intuition in the possibility.

Nothing is lost in such a state even if on a profound level the ego-mind suspects that it is an existential threat to its separateness. In this, the ego is both correct and incorrect. Testimony of the ages and the sages is that nothing is lost in the realization of the state of oneness and everything worthwhile in life (happiness, that is!) is found. But such is the price of the pearl of great price: the very real-seeming threat of extinction.

No wonder some teachers and traditions describe this state in negative terms: "nirvana" (no vanas, or no mental activities of the ego-construct). Buddha gave no description of the undescribable. The yogis, however, describe the state as satchidanandam: ever-existing, ever-conscious, ever-new Bliss. 

Some aver that bliss is a passing phase on the path to nirvana; some say (as Yogananda does) that samadhi IS the state of bliss. Well, no matter because all who have achieved it say it is the end of all striving, the end of suffering, and the summum bonum of existence. Let us not split the hairs of Holy Grail!

In this, there is neither yin nor yang. Nor is this state the annihilation of our functionality in the human body and in this world. Quite the opposite: freed from the delusion of the limited ego-self, we are free to act in harmony with the divine Self.

The awakened Mind then participates freely in the swirl of creation's eternal flux. Stability at the center; movement at the periphery. A dance choreographed by the Higher Mind of God.

Yogananda stated "I killed Yogananda long ago. No one dwells in this form but He."

And why not? Is not both the outer world and the inner world a ceaseless flux inextricably linked in both energy and form? We only separate ourselves in the limited realm of the five (six, actually, including the mind) senses? Our sense of separateness is an illusion, one not difficult to unmask by paying attention, even by reason, and certainly by intuition: for those courageous enough to enter a brave new world.

For those who might benefit from several excellent videos on this subject (and much more, both science and metaphysics), I direct your attention to the movie Inner Worlds Outer Worlds. It can be viewed in four half hour segments for free on YouTube or the entire move for $3.99: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E1LtuE8zRMo

Aligned with this is another movie called simply Samadhi. It is followed by four guided video meditations. Although these are strongly influenced by Buddhism terminology, Vedanta, Sankhya and Yoga terminology are also included. References to Egypt, native American, Christian terminology are also presented. 

In YouTube.com search for "Samadhi." The two-hour movie is in two one-hour parts and in various languages as well.

Similarly, four guided Samadhi meditations are excellent and are based on watching the breath. Search on Samadhi meditation.

While I personally and most of the readers of this blog practice the techniques taught by Paramhansa Yogananda and therefore don't "need" the resources above, they are well done and in their essence are not contradictory to what Yogananda taught, though their emphases and terminology may differ in parts.

Joy to you!

Nayaswami Hrimananda




Thursday, June 13, 2013

Meditation: Empty or Full?

One of the keen minds I enjoy chatting with the other day, queried: "I sometimes get confused whether in meditation I should be striving to be "empty" or whether I should "worship" my guru or God in some other form or abstract visualization (such as Light or Sound)? Isn't "worship" but a mental projection? I don't want to deceive myself! Which is correct?"

Hmmmm: maybe both? Paramhansa Yogananda, and his disciple, my teacher, Swami Kriyananda, taught that the concept of "nirvana" (emptiness) is all too often misunderstood. Kriyananda asks, tongue firmly in cheek, "Why would anyone want to aspire toward self-extinguishment? No wonder the Buddhist boddhisattvas decide to return to incarnations to help others: they took a "rain check" on spiritual suicide!"

We weren't created with this deeply rooted impulse to survive only to kill it, and by extension, ourselves! (Nor are we given the impulse to create, procreate, to love and to expand only to suppress it!)

Patanjali describes spiritual evolution and the desire to grow in truth and realization as smriti, or memory. The great teacher, the 19th century avatar Ramakrishna, described spiritual growth akin to peeling an onion: each layer of our delusions are peeled off until "no-thing" remains.

The process of emptying ourselves of false self-definitions and self-limiting desires, memories, and opinions is a necessary part of smriti. Ego transcendence has always been an essential element of the spiritual path in every tradition. So, YES: NIRVANA, a state where the ego is dissolved, is a true goal and a true state of consciousness.

St. John of the Cross, the great Christian mystic and contemporary of St. Teresa of Avila (being to him what St. Clare was to St. Francis, a spiritual companion on the path), spoke of this need. He wrote, now so famously:

In order to arrive at having pleasure in everything,
Desire pleasure in nothing.
In order to arrive at possessing everything,
Desire to possess nothing.
In order to arrive at being everything,
Desire to be nothing.
In order to arrive at the knowledge of everything,
Desire to know nothing.

But the question remains: is emptiness the end of all spiritual growth and seeking? Is God, as the Supreme Spirit, simply No-thing? Well, yes, as Pure Consciousness and as "thing" represents material objects, truly God might be described as "No Thing." But here the intellect, striving to reach beyond its own context of "subject-verb-object," fails to reach its goal. The intellect can describe the orange--its shape, color and sweetness and various biological attributes--but it cannot give to us the taste of the orange!

We live that we might live forever; we live that we might be conscious of life and ourselves; we live that we might enjoy Life and find unending satisfaction. To insist that we must kill our own consciousness to achieve, ah, what, exactly? This is absurd.

The great teacher, Swami Shankyacharya (the "adi" or first great teacher, or acharya, in the Indian monastic tradition) described God and the purpose and goal of God's creation and our own, human life, as one and the same: Satchidananadam: immortality, self-awareness, and joy. Or, as Paramhansa Yogananda rendered it: "ever-existing, ever-conscious, ever-new joy!" This is what our hearts seek through many lives and in an infinity of forms and experiences. No outer accomplishment, pleasure, or state, conditioned upon the ceaseless flux of outward conditions, can ever satisfy this eternal, God-knowing impulse.

But first we must empty ourselves of our own desires and ego self-affirmation. Our separateness, personified in the Goddess Kundalini and in her power to delude or to enlighten, is the "entrenched vitality of our mortal delusion" (quoting Swami Kriyananda from his classic text: Art and Science of Raja Yoga).

The reward of our emptying ourselves of all delusion and material desire and ego affirmation is the steady tsunami-like rise of the ocean of bliss into our consciousness. It starts as a little bubble of joy, born of meditation and right attitude in daily life. (Right attitude is self-giving and self-offering, inter alia.)

Thus meditation is both empty and full. Emptiness, as quietude and stillness experienced during meditation, is in fact felt as very dynamic, very full. There are times, however, when our emptiness is simply that: devoid of the little self and of all fluctuations. Indeed, Patanjali not only describes the spiritual path as a process of soul recollectedness (smirit-memory) but as the gradual subsiding of our energetic commitment to our likes, dislikes, desires, memories, and all self-involvement. His most famous sutra, well, second to the aphorism in which he lists the now famous eight steps of Ashtanga Yoga, is Yogas chitta vritti nirodha. Sometimes clumsily translated as "Yoga (state of Oneness) is the neutralization of the waves of mind-stuff!" (A singularly useless translation, I might add. Giving rise to more questions than answers.) But seen as the dissolution of ego involvement, it makes perfect sense.

Nor is the process and experience of meditation a linear one: first empty, then full---like doing the dishes, cleaning the kitchen or the workshop or your desk before beginning a new project. Yes it is that in the big picture but in sitting down, sometimes we are filled with devotion and longing for God; other times we are crushed by grief or disillusionment. The yin and yang of empty and full course through our psychic veins like the tides, or wind in the trees, or clouds scudding across the sky of our mind.

So, yes, friend, it is, once again,  BOTH-AND reality. God is Infinity and more! Thus no thought, no definition can contain Him. The journey, while in essence the same for all, is, in its manifestation in time and space, uniquely our own.

Blessings,

Swami Hrimananda aka Hriman!

Monday, November 12, 2012

What to do with your Enlightened Brother-in-Law?


What to do if your brother-in-law is enlightened? - The world's longest blog article. Apologies in advance for being a nerd. 

What is enlightenment? How to achieve it? Is it easy to do? What is nothingness?

Any resemblance to any living “brother-in-law”  is entirely coincidental.

Since a large number of people on this planet have a brother-in-law, it seems to me that it is about time this important subject be squarely addressed, for, given the large number of brother-in-laws on the planet, there must surely be quite a number who consider themselves “enlightened.” In fact, recent studies have shown that there is a veritable epidemic of enlightenment occurring in the population of brothers-in-law. I feel it is my duty to take on this subject straight up.

Notwithstanding the current pandemic of enlightenment in this group, there have always been some in every age and culture who consider themselves enlightened and who, moreover, consider any and all religious or spiritual doctrines, practices, or promotion as, to quote P.G. Wodehouse, “bilge.” Some, using stronger language, shout “poppycock!”

True devotees everywhere and in every age are plagued by at least one know-it-all scofflaw and self-described enlightened brother-in-law. Since presumably your gentle nature and your firmly held beliefs preclude you from knocking the ‘ol buster off (and putting him out his misery while saving civilization from this blight upon humanity), this article may offer you some solace and alternatives.

Perhaps you are plagued, as I have been, by one such who, while adamantly rejecting any label, would easily fit into the target range of the dreaded “nondualist.” These blighters fancy themselves godlike and omniscient, gazing down upon creation and its creatures with a sardonic and all-knowing hauteur. Their disdain and dismissal of practices such as meditation, dogma, ritual, prayer and the like is, well, “absolute.”

And what makes his assertion that religion is unnecessary (and, in fact, worse than unnecessary) so clever is that there is a some level of truth here. Starting with the well known evils and disadvantages, prejudices, and narrow-mindedness of religion and its practitioners and representatives, there is the deeper truth that in the nondualistic state of consciousness there is no longer any distinctions of “I or Thou” or ego or separateness. In the state of Oneness, there is only Consciousness itself! It almost absurd to spend a lot time describing the state because by “definition” this state is beyond words. Still, for my purposes and I hope for yours too I will use these words as synonyms or markers and these include Oneness and God. Other terms (and there are many more) include Self-realization, samadhi, satori, nirvana, heaven, or mystical marriage (etc. etc.). (Keep in mind that users of these terms may well make distinctions among them.)

In the tradition of Vedanta, the scriptures of India, and among yogis (rishis, masters, etc.) the attitude of our nondualist is the approach to God (or Oneness) called gyana yoga. A modern Christian who approaches God as the “Cosmic Ground of Being” might similarly be called a gyana yogi. So, too, a Buddhist who refuses to describe the ultimate state as any-thing at all except perhaps as nirvana.

As Krishna notes in the Bhagavad Gita, this approach, however, is austere to an extreme (like being a spiritual stoic) and comments that the path to the Absolute should be walked only by a few advanced souls for it is “arduous” for most embodied beings. Easier for humans is to approach the Unapproachable through the “I-Thou” relationship. To be a true nondualist one must deny the very existence of all objects in the field or sphere of duality, including one’s own body, emotions, thoughts and so on! Rare and difficult indeed! For those who attempt it prematurely (and that includes, in my humble opinion, just about everyone who does) they seem to fall into a pit of self-delusion. Those attracted to this path are, admittedly, those who possess a keen and sharp and discerning mind. In the attempt to cut off the report of the senses and emotions (too soon), the mind can drift and pretend to establish its own alternative reality. The consequences, as any amateur psychologist can tell you, are disastrous for as Krishna also notes in Bhagavad Gita, “suppression availeth nothing.” The sphere of the mind is far vaster and more labyrinthian than that of the physical cosmos.

Our aspiring nondualist might even, with a sarcastic grin, quote sages who say, of enlightenment, that “it is, and, it isn’t!” In this they pretend to be deep and profound, hoping by this koan to stump you into submission. Our nondualist will mock all forms of spirituality as tainted with duality and thus doomed by their opposite! And, again, there is some truth to this. One who emphasizes devotion in an unbalanced way may become fanatical, for example. One who emphasizes ritual or dogma may become dogmatic, and one who treasures selflfess service may become restless and disillusioned.

Hiding behind the pretense of nonduality may impress a few, but enlightenment is not a put up job. Yes, it is that an enlightened master can make himself appear very ordinary to ordinary and materialistic people but those of refined consciousness will always catch his scent! It is absurd to claim enlightenment but to have no noticeable traits of an expanded consciousness.

Still, we must confess that enlightenment is unconditional and it expresses itself uniquely in each soul who achieves it. Swami Kriyananda once asked an enlightened yogi why he didn’t seem to have any disciples or conduct any ministry. The yogi’s simple reply was, “God has done what He wants with this body.”

Another feature of the state of Oneness is that it exists independent of any efforts to achieve it. Will power or mental power or affirmation alone cannot command it. But the scoffer mistakenly concludes that any effort to achieve it is futile, and that any effort to share “the path to it,” is nothing but self-serving propaganda. Pointing to the many shortcomings of religion and religionists, and their all-too-human representatives, he claims to have “proof.”

In this we encounter yet another of mankind’s existential dilemmas: how can the ego transcend itself? Can any action ever be other than in self-interest? Is anyone who strives for salvation or seeks to help others towards the same goal simply self-deluded because he or she is so plainly NOT (yet) enlightened himself? Is there a way out of this conundrum? The relationship of spiritual growth to effort and even to grace is so difficult to establish objectively that it is not difficult to look at all the religious craziness that abounds and dismiss it all as useless. Add to this the overpowering satisfaction and relief it offers to the ego which can rise up and shout, “I told you so!” “I’m perfect just the way I AM!” “I don’t have to do a thing!” But is it true?

Human life is not worth living if we abandon the nexus between action and consequence. The law of action and reaction has its metaphysical counterpart in the law of karma. Problem is, the nondualist proclaims, leaping into the breach, action only produces reaction and it never ends. Or does it?

Sleep may be the opposite of activity, but yogis claims that Oneness is achieved through the state of breathlessness -- a state that doesn’t produce death to the physical body. “Be still and know that I AM GOD” says the Old Testament. To admit a nondual state is, itself, logically even, to yield to the affirmation that there exists a state of being, of consciousness that has no second, no dual, and that this state is transcendent of duality.

Other great spiritual teachers and scriptures further proclaim that from this state of Oneness is manifested the whole of creation itself. This cannot be proved logically, they admit, but only realized in the state itself. By definition, moreover, this would have to be the case.

The power of Oneness holds the key to our imprisonment in the body and ego. “It takes One to Know One.” It has been both a universal precept and an easily observed fact in the history of the spiritual giants of planet Earth that each soul, imprisoned, is eventually awakened from its delusive dream of duality and separateness by the influence, wisdom, and compassion of another who has already awakened from the dream. Thus the power of the myths such as the prince and the pauper. We are all royalty but we find ourselves paupers and have forgotten our true nature. Someone or somehow we must awaken from this error, this nightmare of mistaken identity.

This, too, is the meaning of the famous story by Jesus Christ: the Prodigal Son. A true guru (known as a “Sat” guru, or savior) comes in every age (measured in thousand or more year increments) to re-awaken the forgotten memory of our Oneness in those souls who, during that time, are ready and “have ears to hear” (as Jesus put it repeatedly). Such a One also has the power to attract and completely liberate those who have incarnated in that time and place in readiness to ascend.

But the pseudo guru of the Big Easy to Oneness is not finished yet, for he also has the testimony of some spiritual teachers (and seekers) who quote scriptures such as I AM THAT I AM (Old Testament), or, “Tat twam asi” (Thou art THAT! - Hindu scriptures) to bolster their claim that no personal effort is needed for we are already enlightened and only have to realize it.

This claim, though misplaced, nonetheless has its source in the truth that the state of Oneness both preexists and coexists with material reality. Out of Oneness, out of nonduality, and out of God has come creation’s duality. (Out of the One, comes two; from two, three!) Nonduality (God) is both the source and sustainer of duality and at the same untouched by it. This is as deep and profound a truth (and mystery to our duality-bound intellect and body-bound sense experiences) as any mankind has intuited. It is taught in various ways in every great faith and metaphysical tradition. On its basis, some have falsely concluded that we can simply declare ourselves “free” and thereby be proclaimed “enlightened.” But again I ask you, is it so? And if it is, how do you we know it’s true? Are there are any proofs of enlightenment?

Given that religion will always have its share of frauds and flawed human beings (as we find in all human endeavors), and given that there are ignorant and superstitious people who practice religion out of fear, suffering or for ego or material gain, it’s not so difficult, if so inclined, to conclude along with Karl Marx that religion is “the opiate of the people.” When one has a taste of nonduality and in relation to it, it is true that all spiritual efforts and beliefs seem unnecessary. If one achieves enlightenment and it is a permanent beatitude, well, why argue? But the mere contemplation or passing experience of Oneness does not thereby render one exempt from the challenge and effort needed for purification of ego consciousness in order to enjoy the permanent blessing of soul freedom. The coexistence of nondual and dual states of consciousness (and passing back and forth between) can give rise to pride and self-delusion.

In fact, this is a commonly reported challenge to spiritual seekers even if they never use these somewhat dry and technical terms. Swami Kriyananda, my teacher, has pointed out that in the last stages of liberation the final test is that of pride--in this case, pride in the very real lofty heights of vision and power granted to the soul before it merges into the stream of Bliss forever. The Christian analogy is the temptation of Christ during which Satan shows to him all the earth and offers him dominion over all things if Jesus will worship him, Satan, Lord of Creation. Jesus says, simply, “Get thee behind me, Satan!” The test of pride is both the soul’s first and last temptation.

And because many people, including your brother-in-law, may have in fact had some peak experience of a nondual or nonverbal reality, it tempts one to so declare the inadequacy and unessential need for self-effort, religion or spiritual activities or beliefs. If well read, our scoffer might quote Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita who (like Buddha centuries later) who decried the common reliance upon Vedic rituals and prayers in substitution for the effort to seek God as the sole reality.

Is all spiritual striving and sharing, therefore, simply a delusion, like your brother-in-law avers?

There’s a corollary to this line of false but egoically convenient reasoning. The corollary is the long standing appearance of the teaching of emptiness. The state of the void or emptiness is indeed a state of consciousness. It includes trance states or states induced medically or otherwise. Every night in deep sleep we enter the dreamless sleep state in which yogis say we touch upon our soul nature as Bliss. Yet far from being unconscious, when we awaken from a good sleep we are aware that we slept well (or not), having entered this important and essential state. Yogis have long used comparisons to sleep to hint at higher states of consciousness. Unfortunately, in sleep we cannot progress spiritually because enlightenment by definition is a higher, more aware state.

If all things are a manifestation of consciousness, this must include rocks. Rocks don’t appear especially conscious. Therefore, we can conclude that in this relative world, consciousness itself is relative but that unconsciousness, taken literally, is impossible.

But some clever scoffers aver that emptiness is de facto the state of enlightenment. This is convenient because it, too, absolves the scoffer of any guilt, remorse or need for effort or right action. This false teaching is well rooted in that agnostics, atheists and materialists believe that at death we disappear and no longer exist. Hard to argue with the obvious physical evidence (or lack of it) supporting this point of view. But in this article I don’t want to get into the afterlife issue, not for fear, but it’s a much bigger topic. In this article I want to focus on enlightenment as a present state of consciousness while living in a human body. I am only saying that the lack of belief in an afterlife is another point of view that would seem to support the idea that enlightenment is a state of emptiness.

This concept of no-thing-ness is, however, a valid teaching because, as a state of being, it can be experienced by meditative efforts. But is it enlightenment? Emptiness is a feature of and typically associated with Buddhistic teachings, though it appears throughout history and in human thinking. But it is flawed, both logically and intuitively. For no one, except perhaps a suicide, seeks permanent loss of consciousness. Survival is the most deeply rooted instinct to be found anywhere in creation. If it is false then the creation itself is false. And yes that teaching is common, too, but we are not here to discuss whether the creation is true or false. A useless debate. We can simply say that it is impermanent so far as our experience of it is concerned. We can say that intrudes impressively upon our senses and our thoughts, and, indeed, even our dreams. Whether anything is, ultimately, “real” begs the question and no doubt pleases mental midgets but not true seekers who, in the end, want practical results to their sincere seeking.

Let us therefore say that the creation is false in the sense of always changing, alternating between opposites and not absolute in the sense that Oneness, pure Consciousness, and God are unchanging and eternal. Whether or not the creation is self-perpetuating is also a “relatively” useless question for midget minds and dry hearts.

Returning now to emptiness, my teacher (Swami Kriyananda) has put it so well with his tongue-(firmly)-in-cheek: Commenting on the Buddhistic belief that the end of suffering and the goal of life is to achieve the void, he says, “No wonder that in that tradition they came up with the concept of Boddhisattva: one who postpones his enlightenment to help others. Seeking no-thing-ness is more likely to prompt a request for a rain check from what amounts to an act of suicide. Who would aspire to no-thing-ness? Why, moreover, would one who achieved emptiness feel such deep and abiding compassion for the sufferings of others?

That emptiness is in fact a state of consciousness and can be experienced is not worth denying. Many great spiritual teachers so attest to it. Most express this state as a steppingstone, a way station to the goal. But if the price to end suffering is to end consciousness as we know it, well, hmmmm, I think most of us would want put in a request for that rain check.

Like Frank Sinatra sang, “Is that all there is?” Hardly: saints down through ages don’t exhibit love, compassion and joy as aspects of an enlightened consciousness “for nothing!” The “nothing” that is real and true is the dissolution of ego, “nothing” less. But when ego is dissolved (or expanded into Infinity--either image works for the sake of describing the indescribable), the result is the one thing all beings seek: pure, unconditioned Bliss. Not a loss of consciousness but Consciousness itself. Satchidananda: God is, and we are, and we seek immortality (Sat), unbroken Self-awareness (Chit) and Bliss (Ananda): Ever-existing, ever-conscious, ever-new Bliss.

Our survival instinct isn’t present for the sake of mere survival. We survive that we may live; we live only as we are self-aware, and we seek to live to enjoy living. The ancient teachings of India, including the adi (first) Swami Shankycharya, in seeking to dispell the growing atheism among the adherents of Buddhism, declare that God is Sat-Chit-Ananda: ever-existing, ever-conscious, ever-new Bliss. This is the nature of absolute reality and is the eternal promise and striving of all creation and of our souls.

But no matter how cogent your response to the scoffer is, be prepared for his “ultimate defense strategy.”  When shaken, he will deploy his golden parachute of silent nonduality to dismiss your explanations as born in the “captivity” of duality.

Putting the scoffer aside, smug in his inertial blanket of theoretical nonduality, I do think he does us a service by helping us clarify some important questions. The effort can highlight for us both the limits of intellectual discovery and the potential for the intellect to point us in the right direction when used wisely. But, like Moses who could not enter the Promised Land because born in captivity (duality), the intellect must be set aside. Only the heart can “know” and can enter into God (Oneness). “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.”

So I see at least three useful inquiries offered to me by my (self-proclaimed) enlightened brother-in-law:

1.    What does it mean to be enlightened?
2.    Are there any objective signs of an enlightened consciousness?
3.    What, if anything, can I (as ego) do to transcend ego and achieve enlightenment?

Human life would be insufferable if we didn’t have the intuitive wisdom that we can improve our lives and that we can discover what is true (whether it be in respect to material, psychological or spiritual matters). The intuitive knowledge and common shared experience that intention and attitude markedly affect a person’s actions (and that one’s actions reflect one’s consciousness) is fundamental to the human experience.

Many sages, saints, poets and ordinary people have attempted to describe the indescribable state of nonduality. “Nonduality” is a coldly rational word and I prefer “God” or, at worst, Oneness. But it would the height of folly to “mince words” when describing God!

I suppose that many humans, indeed, perhaps most, have had some peak experience in their lives. In every field of human activity you find beginners, experienced people, and “masters” of their art or craft. This, too, is fundamental to the human experience.

So, therefore, it is not unreasonable to presuppose that enlightenment, too, has its stages of progressive development. You might object along rational lines saying that an experience of nonduality must surely be, by “definition,” the same for everyone. That may be logical but it defies the testimony and experience of human beings. Love, too, might be said to be the same, but in fact it isn’t. There are degrees of depth and feeling.

Paramhansa Yogananda was once asked if there is an end to striving (in achieving enlightenment). He said, effectively, that there is no end but one goes on into endlessness. What else, after all, would “Infinity” suggest?

John Paul Sartre may have declared himself “radically free” to act from his own inner creative impulse, unaffected by outer circumstances but in this he betrayed both common sense and truth. Nothing about his life, should you be so unfortunate to study it, suggests the truth of his self-declaration.

True saints may indeed have “seen” God but each and everyone of them are unique and their lives, examples, and message was surely conditioned by, because appropriate to, outer circumstances and the needs of others. Always appropriate to the circumstance is the wise one.

What can enlightenment possibly mean if it isn’t life changing? It may be that it transforms each person uniquely but states of anger, jealousy, lust and dishonesty are not aspects of an enlightened consciousness. This is not only common sense but it is, in fact, the testimony of the lives of thousands of souls who have been recognized as having a desirable and elevated state of consciousness worthy of being called enlightened.

I won’t attempt to go further and speak of the “miracles” performed by saints for I know those cannot be “proved” although a sincere study of their lives and the testimony of credible witnesses may prove surprisingly persuasive.

In the Bhagavad Gita, the disciple, Arjuna, in fact asks his guru, Krishna, “What are the signs of the one who has achieved liberation?” In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, he describes numerous signs of enlightenment which demonstrate power of nature and power over life and death. But again, such things are beyond the experience of most people.

“He who says he knows, doesn’t. He who says he doesn’t, doesn’t. He who knows, knows.”

I have purposely avoided attempting to define enlightenment. I would have to quote my guru and others who are Self-realized and consistent in their roundabout descriptions. But I cannot speak of it from my own experience. But how can I “know” who is Self-realized. We can point at the blue sky above, but until we can fly, we remain earth bound.

It is foolish to buy into the clever and ego-affirming dogma that enlightenment is easy of attainment; that it costs nothing (in terms of effort or discipline); that it eschews the need for religion, spiritual teachings, prayer, meditation, or a spiritual teacher. Such assertions will always be made by some but simply examine their lives and see with what degree of non-attachment, even-mindedness, inner peace, compassion and wisdom do they conduct their lives? Their philosophy is simply a state of self-delusion, for it comforts and coddles the ego and excuses it of any meaningful effort, devotion to anything greater than themselves, or grateful, compassionate service to others. In Oneness we see all life as a part of ourselves.

In the duality of human life, we have the opposites but this does not mean that anger is just as valuable as love. We find greater happiness in love than in hatred. They may be opposites but what separates them from Oneness is the link to ego desire and involvement. Love connects and unites; hatred, separates.

Peace and love draw one closer to Oneness because the ego-active principle is soothed and smoothed. As we express more and more virtue and self-less-ness we become calmer and stronger in ourselves. At the center point between opposites is the still state of Oneness and while logic dictates that the opposites should be equal as well as opposing, goodness brings us closer to ego transcendence than evil.

But there is a catch, for “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” As long as even our goodness is ego-centric and ego-affirming, we are still caught and the pendulum of duality will, in time, force us back. Only when we consciously give ourselves to God with love and self-offering can the power of grace (of Oneness, of nonduality) meet us halfway to draw us ever deeply toward the still point within. Only when we consciously surrender into Oneness with an open heart can we enter, and, when we are ready, remain, in that beatitude.

So don’t let your scoffer brother-in-law get to you. Disdain and contempt is difficult to bear, but only by the ego. Instead, consider it a glorious path to God. Meet disdain with love and even-mindedness. Indeed, feel but compassion, for a dry, loveless heart and overly intellectual mind has no room, no appetite for God, no chance for true happiness. Like one used to eating stale cheese, the armchair philosopher substitutes his cleverness for truth and, in time, finds the harvest but a bitter fruit of stillborn emptiness, devoid of happiness.

Be of good cheer! The truth shall make you free!

Blessings,

Nayaswami Hriman