If it appears that I haven't been writing in this blog all week, it's only because of the very lengthy dialog I've been having with Friend in the previous posts' comments section, which not everyone may have noticed. Most of the dialog can be found there, though some occurred in the post just preceding it, and in the comments section. Just follow the links in each post. Here's the latest post/reply:
I've read your responses to both me and Kang, and I get a better sense for what you are trying to describe. Your description of “conscious being” is fairly clear. Conscious awareness, the consciousness of being, the “intelligent observer”, these are all good descriptions of a basic intelligence that is a good step above ordinary assumptions about ourselves, such as scientific materialism or just basic unquestioning bodily identification. However, contrary to what you have assumed, this is not what Ramana calls the Self, or what Niz and others describe as realization. In fact, it's really not even close. It's just a very basic understanding of ourselves as conscious beings. It certainly solves a basic level of dilemma and search based on doubt of self and irreligious attitudes of atheistic emptiness. But what you describe as the end of your search, is not the end of all seeking, just the end of a particular mode of seeking and disturbance. Obviously you have benefited from not being disturbed and not feeling the need to seek for some greater spiritual understanding of self and world. And I for one don't want to try to persuade you to seek something greater or deeper. I'm not a Guru, after all. I'm not even qualified to offer and opinion in any authoritative sense of things. I'm just responding as a friend and fellow traveler. I could certainly be wrong. It wouldn't be the first time. But I also feel fairly certain that I'm at least in the right ballpark.
I like your whole story of your own spiritual search and its conclusion. I don't want to put it down at all. And by saying that it isn't non-dual realization, I hope you know that's not a put-down at all. Lots of people would be very happy to have achieved your understanding. But it isn't a permanent understanding in the sense of being unconditional and transcendental. It's only permanent in the same way that puberty is permanent. Once one's hormones make those changes in our body, they don't go backwards. But the body dies, and when it does, not only will our hormones be gone, but our understanding of ourselves as self-aware conscious being will also go. We will be reborn and go through a similar struggle just to get back to this kind of understanding.
I want to point out that what you are describing is essential for everyone on the spiritual path. Becoming convinced that we are consciousness first, and not the body or material objects, is very important. But it's only the beginning. It's not non-dual awareness. In fact, it is exactly the dualistic awareness that I have been trying to describe to you. Dualism isn't just scientific materialism. In fact, it's hard to see oneself as dualistic while being a scientific materialist, because one doesn't even see experience from the perspective of the conscious observer. One simply assumes that consciousness is a feature of matter, and so in some sense life is “single” and uncomplicated. Adding the conscious observer to the mix makes things more complex, and the materialist doesn't like that. That complexity is essentially the awareness of duality, and all the mirrored features of dualistic mind.
When we become aware of ourselves in this manner, we begin to realize that conscious being is the basic element of life, but this is not the singleness you are trying to describe. Yes, self becomes single, but it is self in the midst of a world of objects. This self that is “conscious being” is the ego. It is the very awareness that must be transcended. But it is also the field of conscious spiritual practice. The most basic form of self-enquiry as taught by Ramana is simple feeling-awareness of the sense of self, of “I”, of awareness feeling awareness. Letting go of identification with this sense of self becomes a natural response over time, but this is not possible until one lets go of all attachments to objects and falls into the source of this sense of “I”. Some people misunderstand Ramana and other teachers, and think that this “I” is the Self, that the “I” and the Self are really the same, because they have heard equations such as “Atman and Brahman are the same”, or that unenlightenment is merely a concept. What Ramana and Papaji both point out is that while this is true, that the truth of the “I” is the Self, that we are already enlightened, this is also just a concept. So both unenlightenment and prior enlightenment are both concepts, until realization itself.
What Ramana makes clear time and again is that the “I”, the conscious sense of being, of awareness, is the false self, the illusion of egoity. His recommendation for practice is not to try to eliminate this, but to settle fully into it, inspect it, and find its source. Where does this feeling of being come from? Ramana points out that this feeling of consicous being is just a thought. He calls it the “I”-thought. He recommends meditation on this “I”-thought, which is the source of all other thoughts. But if one simply accepts this feeling of self as oneself, and lets that assumption simply “be the case” there is no real transcendence of it. We all feel this sense of self. The reason you describe your realization as “no big deal” isn't because true enlightenment is no big deal, it's because knowing oneself as conscicous being really is no big deal.
I know that you don't have some inflated notion of yourself as being a realizer like Ramana and Niz, etc. But you do seem to have made some false assumptions about non-dual practice and realization by simply assuming that what you have come to understand is the same thing. I know it's fashionable to say that enlightenment isn't a big deal, that its simply “ordinary”, and one could certainly in some sense say this is true, but only in a sense. Enlightenment is of course the biggest deal, it is infinitely big, infinite love, infinite being, not just the simple sense of being that comes from recognizing the primacy of consciousness. There's a reason Ramana and Niz are thought of so highly. Such realization is extremely rare, and in a basic sense that makes it a big deal. The understanding you have come to is not very rare at all, and consequently is not such a big deal. It's good, it's highly recommended, but the reason it doesn't feel like such a big deal to you is that it simply isn't.
Now there's a basic sense of understanding in what you describe that is good to keep with you regardless of what exceptional experiences might arise. It's good to keep a basic sense of context here, and not be all that impressed with higher spiritual experiences. But it's not as if higher spiritual experiences have no value either. Still, what you describe could be the basis for non-dual practice if you understood it better. The problem is that some people tend to not know what to do with it. They might even feel that their search is over, that this is the end of the line. That's not true. That's another illusion. I know you probably don't like me saying that, but I do think you ought to look into the matter a little more deeply.
Now I can't go through your post point by point, but when you talk about certain paradoxes, like the genie giving a gift of enlightenment, of course this is all based on misunderstandings about non-dualism. Enlightenment is not given, because enlightenment is already the case. All that occurs in enlightenment is that the contradictions are removed. The primary contradiction that is removed is the “I”-thought, the sense of feeling of conscious being. So rather than asking the genie for a state of enlightenment, or anything at all, one would simply ask that the ego illusion be removed. The genie might then ask, like Bodhidharma, “what ego?”, and if one was ready, that might be sufficient for realization. If not, one would have to investigate, and find out what ego indeed. That would be the course of practice Ramana calls self-enquiry. So the genie's gift is not enlightenment, but the practice of self-enquiry. As Ramana used to say, simple interest in self-enquiry is all the sign one needs that one has been given the Guru's grace, because that is the form it takes.
I don't know if any of that interests you. One of the biggest problems with thinking that one is already there is that one doesn't investigate the nature of the self any further. As you say, your search is over, why look further? I can't answer that. What you have understood might be enough for you, and in that sense it is ultimate as far as you are concerned. But there's a reason why you seem not to understood these non-dual teachings and descriptions of enlightenment very well. You are trying to adapt them to what you know and experience as your own conscious being, and they are not trying to describe that at all. They are describing something that is at best intuited within our sense of conscious being, but the ego always tries to turn that intuition towards its own ends. One of the things it will do is tell us that this is enlightenment. When it does that, the ego feels safe and satisfied. We feel safe and satisfied. That feeling should itself be a warning sign. Spiritual practice should never feel wholly safe and satisfied. Our search should never feel at an end, until infinite love and bliss make it impossible to seek at all. And I do mean infinite. Not just basic and simple and ordinary, but infinite consciousness.
However, almost everyone in the universe is satisfied with far less. It seems that literally only a handful of people are unsatisfied with everything, and won't settle for anything less than infinite love. But we are discussing unconditional realization, meaning infinite in every respect. It can't be equated to the ordinary limited consciousness of simple being that we can all turn to and grow with. The source of our ordinary consciousness is infinite, but without that direct and infinite consciousness of the source of the ego, we are simply being ordinary egos.