Thought I'd bring forward this reply to Kang's comments below:
As to whether it makes sense to say one person is enlightened and another isn't, it depends on the utility of the situation. Ultimately, I don't know, but in practical terms I form meaningful opinions about things in order to function. So my meaningful opinion is that Ramana and Niz are enlightened, and Saniel Bonder is not. That may not be meaningful to you, or to anyone else, but to me its just as meaningful an opinion as looking at my gas gauge and thinking I need to fill up the tank before I run out. It's a dualistic opinion, in other words, and I understand that. But living in a dualistic state of mind, I need to keep track of things to some degree. I don't want to run out of gas, and I don't want to follow the teachings of guys like Bonder. I'd like to keep my gas tank full and my mind on the teachings of people I consider genuinely enlightened. My opinions about enlightenment are formed through a trial and error process, similar but obviously more complex than reading a gas gauge, and I really don't see any problem with that.
You seem to think that a non-dual practitioner should apply principles of non-dualism to everything, including dualistic matters. I disagree, Ramana disagrees, and teaches very clearly that one should not mix the two. He said that you don't walk past a rapist assaulting a woman because both of them are non-separate in God. You step in and help out. And he also said that you don't treat the Guru as if he were an ordinary man like yourself or anyone else. You treat him sacredly. Now Ramana personally refused to be treated specially in various ways, such as being given special foods and things, and he didn't even like to be bowed down to, but he certainly did teach that people relate to him as Guru, and not relate to “everything” as one's Guru. He was practical, and pointed out that as long as you have a dualistic mind, and live in a dualistic world, you have to follow its laws and logic, and “give to Caesar what is Caesar's” so to speak. This applies to spiritual matters as well. He felt that it was important to test one's Guru and feel certain that they were enlightened and trustworthy. He didn't ask for indiscriminate surrender to himself, and he didn't even much like calling himself a Guru in the traditional sense. But he acknowledged the necessity of it.
So I think that while we have dualistic minds we have to be humble about that, and not try to apply non-dual principles to our own thinking. Thought is a dualistic square box, and you can't force it into the round hole of non-dualism. And vice-vera. So while you may not like to put people into the box of “enlightened” or “unenlightened” that doesn't stop your dualistic mind from doing its thing. You just put other labels on it, I'm sure. I gather there are some teachers you respect, and others you don't. That too is applying dualistic discrimination to teachers. If you';re going to do that, why not get more precise with it? Discrimination is a dualistic practice, but a very important one to develop. Yes, one lets it go in self-enquiry, but that doesn't mean the person practicing self-enquiry has no discrimination.
Self-enquiry is practiced in relation to the self. You don't practice it in relation to other people, You don't try to bring a non-dual “attitude” towards your relations with others. As longs as you perceive others, you are functioning from the dualistic mind, and you have to bring discrimination to your relations. So I see nothing wrong with judging others intelligently, and saying this one seems enlightened and this one doesn't. It seems even necessary if one is to discriminate between true and false teachings. Yes, true and false are dualistic concepts, but we are living with dualistic minds, and so they are very important concepts for us to get straight. Going beyond dualism doesn't mean abandoning such knowledge. It means that we simply understand that it is merely dualistic, and thus, as you say in that wonderful phrase “lacking significance”. Of course, it only lacks significance in the non-dual sense. We don't become attached to our invented meanings and perceptions, but we don't simply throw them away either. They remain in place even for the enlightened. They know not to put their hands in fire, not to eat dirt instead of vegetables, and not to believe that people are enlightened who clearly aren't.
I think you are quite wrong to say that enlightened people have no concept of unenlightenment, and don't divide people into the two camps. Yes and no. Yes, in that they see all as enlightened, but no in that they can clearly tell who know this and who doesn't. They can see that very few people actually know they are enlightened, and even many of those who say they are enlightened don't know it for real, but only say so, with some deluded notion about enlightenment fogging their minds. Ramana mentioned or acknowledged in passing a few people who had become enlightened , including his mother and several animals. Clearly he could tell this was true of them, and not true of most other people. This didn't mean that Ramana was stuck in dualistic concepts of enlightenment and unenlightenment. It simply meant that he functioned with natural intelligence about such things. He was also very good at chopping vegetables, and managed not to nip off his fingers. It's a fairly similar skill when it gets down to it.
So I think it's fine to form opinions about such things, in order not to nip off one's fingers. It's good to know if you are enlightened, which Ramana clearly knew about himself, and I think its good to know one is not enlightened, which I know about myself. It's also important to know that all this is just dualistic knowledge, and “lacking significance” in reality. But in the dream, it has meanings and value.
What's important to recognize is that while one is dreaming, one can't simply discard dualistic notions, or mix them with non-dual notions, and expect non-dual results to come about. Non-dual practice isn't about doing anything with or to one's dualistic mind. You could have the worst dualistic thoughts in the world and still practice non-dualism. When you say,
“So you are not really a practitioner of self-enquiry if you begin with such things cluttering up your brain,”
I can't help but laugh. Every practitioner of self-enquiry begins with such things cluttering up their brains, and far worse. You don't sit down to practice self-enquiry by first cleaning out your mind. If you do that, you aren't doing self-enquiry, you are putting attention on the dualistic mind. Ramana's recommendation for practice under such conditions is to simply ask, “to whom are these thoughts arising?” That approach can be made regardless of the thoughts in your mind, from the highest to the lowest.
“After all, if you are actually a devoted enquirer, the practice of self-enquiry must be founded in a state of not-knowing. Those who "already know" don't ask. And prior affirmations and/or denials contradict such a state. They have to be dispensed with first...Yes, affirmations and denials exist. Why identify with them?”
Self-enquiry is not founded in any special state at all. It's founded in this state, right now, whatever state you are in. If you are in a state of knowledge of some kind – and chances are that you are – this is the state in which you practice self-enquiry There is no preliminary practice of entering into some special state of not-knowing in order to practice self-enquiry. You practice self-enquiry because you already have presumed to know who you are – this body-mind. The practice is a questioning of that knowledge. You question whether you really are who you think you are. The more you examine yourself, the more it becomes clear that you don't know who you are at all. So this “not-knowing” is one of the results of practicing self-enquiry, it isn't something else one must do beforehand.
Self-enquiry has NO requirements. Everyone can do it, regardless of their preparation or state. That's the whole point. It's an unconditional practice. Ramana recommended it to everyone, not just advanced beings. So all our prior affirmations and denials are part of what are inspected in self-enquiry. One does inspect the presumption of unenlightenment, which is simply the presumption that we are body-minds. But it is really inspected, not shunted aside. We are truly identified with them, and simply saying that we are not our presumptions has no great meaning aside from finding out who we really are, and finding out our real enlightenment. I haven't done that, so by default it simply makes sense to say that I am unenlightened. It's not by identifying with that statement or concept that I become unenlightened, it's by identifying with the whole complex of this body-mind that I become or seem to be unenlightened. So what is important is not getting rid of such superficial concepts, but inspecting ourselves and see what really is true, and questioning all our presumptions. If you do that fully, then you can call yourself enlightened. Until then, it's no more harmful to call yourself unenlightened as it is to say you are not the President of the United States. It's even helpful in my view. One of the most important virtues to develop in this practice is humility, all these realizers talk about that. And part of being humble is knowing that one is lost in samsara, and needs the help of those who are not. That's why I read the works of enlightened beings – because they can help me. One has to be willing to bow down and put one's head on the floor, give up one's pride, and admit that we don't know what we are doing and need help. That kind of humility doesn't hurt one's chances of being enlightened. It might not be “a step up” from thinking of oneself as enlightened, but I'm not looking to step up. If anything, I'm looking to step down, to humble myself before God. God knows I'm arrogant enough already. Can you imagine what I'd be like if I thought I was enlightened? Truly unbearable.
I like what you said about duality, and that's a great take on Da's whole “pinching yourself” teaching, tying it to this view of conditionality as “not substantial”. What Ramana says about the realizer is simply that they have no volition of their own anymore, because no one is at home. They are lived by the Divine Spirit, and their actions are the actions of the Divine. As Papaji says, he has no mind at all, and hence no desires, because without a mind desire has nowhere to take root. He acts spontaneously, with no thinking at all. It turns out that his actions are for the benefit of others, but how else could it be when there is no self or mind to benefit from them?