Wednesday, July 12, 2006

How meaningful is it to say someone is enlightened or unenlightened?

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?


Tor said...

It seems to me that when we get caught up in the words "duality" and "non-duality," we fail to appreciate that they are two sides of the same coin. The dual is the non-dual.

Broken Yogi said...

Actually, they are opposite in meaning. They can't actually be two sides of the same coin, because if they were, it would be a dualistic coin, and there would be no side for the non-dual to be on. That's the whole point of non-dual teachings. They are not "another side" of the coin. They claim there is no coin, no two sides, only a one-sided universe, single in nature, without a second side to it. Trying to imagine that with a dualistic mind is what leads to all these troubles in words and their meanings. In some sense, the non-dual reality is actually impossible to imagine, because the mind simply can't think that way. It's like a 9-dimensional space, or a Klein bottle, but in some sense even worse. Working at understanding it is like working on a koan, doomed to failure, but in failure the mind stops and one might at least get a glimpse of it.

Anonymous said...

This conversation has been fascinating
It seems to show for one thing what a leap is involved in attempting to converse about reality via the internet, when no shared physical presence is involved
Perhaps if you two were simply to meditate together in one place for a while, before talking, there would be some further understanding of each other, such that fewer or simpler word communication would suffice

A lot of this seems to have to do with style
When one just sits and relaxes, alert, now, there is still a quality or style of being
The internal world is different for different people, our configuration is different
Many kinds of teaching exist, some of them are informational, some are technique-oriented and some are simply trying to facilitate a particular style or quality of being

Let's say someone was sitting and was quite tense, even a bit rigid
Another might say 'relax' or 'it's ok to relax'
Rather than having a 3 hour conversation about whether 'relaxation' does or does not constitute 'enlightenment', there is instead a simple relaxation in the body of the listener, based on the feeling of invitation, reminder, inspiration ... if the communication in fact is offered and received without a lot of excess baggage

So, when we talk on the internet, sometimes we each might be going in and out of different modes, different purposes to writing the words
One is very concerned with the proper definition of a word, so as to avoid a kind of dull, slippery, foggy, self-confirming state
Yet the other is very concerned with simply suggesting a shift in tone of the discourse, the inquiry, a shift in the style or focus of being

It's hard to ever reconcile a conversation when the point of the word use is so different
Ideally, one could speak in a way that was both ultimately precise and ultimately helpful in terms of style of being
But, this may be culturally determined, how that would sound, because we each react differently to specific words, to verbality itself, to nuances

My sense is that Friend is simply pointing to the knot of identity as lying behind much of our machinations
When this knot is directly addressed, then the possibility exists that it will gradually unfold itself and the confusion there will be released, without an 'answer' or a stance of any kind being adopted; the simple light of awareness effectuating clarification of the confusion
One can call this self-enquiry in the formal sense or not, but it is a version of inquirying into the nature of identity
Once there is some release to this confusion, however deep that may or may not be, there is a fundamental shift in the spirit and style of any further living and any further inquiring
Thus the effectiveness and correctness of any such inquiry can shift dramatically, in a way that was not possible when driven by a heavy dualistic strugle
One part of the shift may be less of a tension around notions of release and enlightenment, and more of a simple, spontaneous living of natural inquiry, such that one would not even label it or plan it as such
Thus one does not need to claim 'enlightenment' at all, but can simply live and share; yet one can offer communication which addresses some of the painful confusion around identity

My sense is that BY is a different person, who has a true passion for precision and is honestly suspicious of claims and hidden claims; of unmarked cul-de-sacs on the way
So, stylistically, there is a natural questioning of things, and an honoring of the value of integrity in inquiry; ie, distinguishing between sloppy inquiry and a sharper, clearer kind
One could say there is also a passion for enlightenment, and while this could be construed by some as blind, unexamined, dualistic craving, it could also be seen as natural appreciation of clarity
To the degree that BY has found more clarity evidenced in traditional teachers, there might be a willingness to attempt to unmask things to that degree, even if this means challenging comfortable places and social niceties
Perhaps BY's instruction would be more along the lines of 'get really clear about what you are doing, how you are doing it, what you truly value'
Getting clear may lead to comprehension of the ways in which one is actually quite comfortable with duality and ego; but this forms the basis for real maturation of interest which naturally leads to real release

I think both sets of instruction are valid, they are just very different in intent and style
Perhaps they are each better suited to people who already have some resonance with the presenter

People who enjoy the given style, will ultimately feel 'resolved' simply by entering and living their authentic style and appreciating whatever release pours from that
This sense of being 'resolved', as to where/how being seats itself, can be so deep, that there is no longer a sense of search, of existential plight; yet one may note further insights spontaneously pouring forth, and no sense of stuckness or denial
Another person, though, viewing it all, may note what they consider to be further journey going on, and incomplete communication happening, and thus designate it as 'not enlightened'
In that ultimate sense, perhaps 'enlightenment' is not to be sought as a place; but rather we can turn towards a deeper, more authentic engagement with the heart of the matter
Since each one is different, what this looks like will also differ, and each will benefit from individuals who seem to best speak to ones situation

Part of simply meditating or sitting together silently, is we pick up on the resonant field of each other, kind of 'get' each other, so we say things that work for that situation, that person
There's an act of translation that happens, which doesn't even have to be planned or demanded, but just is what the situation elicits

Ok, that's all
Thank you both for sharing and I hope you continue to do so, regardless of whether any one given person can hear, at a given time, all of what you are saying

Anonymous said...

This is agreed upon:

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.

I would go even further, however, and say that this is the case with everyone at all times. Only those under delusion believe they are acting because they have free will. They do not. All beings at all times are lived by the Divine Spirit.

I'll go on to respond to some of your points.

Here's one that I think is not a disagreement, but merely a way of talking about it. You say that the "preliminaries," clarifying the mind, examining false concepts and identification with body/mind, etc. are part of the practice of self-enquiry. Instead of that, I say they are preliminaries. It's immaterial which way you describe it, but I have to ask, under your way of discussing it, one can practice and practice (maybe, so-called) and apparently still not succeed.

In my way of describing it, you do the preparation, take care of the preliminaries, and with that foundation laid, you make the essential enquiry ONCE, and realization ensures in that very moment. So I am saying that self-enquiry and realization are really one and the same thing, and all else is preliminary. If you want to put it differently, OK, but you have to answer why, if you are really a practitioner, you are not also a realizer.

It is not the practice that admits of no impediments, it is realization that is unimpeded and unconditional. Enough freaking talk about the practice, what about the realization?

Elsewhere, you say there is nothing wrong with having an opinion about who is enlightened, even though you maintain you are not one of them. You refer to a nice teaching from Ramana:

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.

But how can you not see that using your dualistic, unenlightened mind to have opinions about who is enlightened or not, is EXACTLY mixing the two, which you adamantly advise me not to do. You're having a huge blind spot there, IMO.

Yes, certainly, there are persons from whom I gather inspiration (let's say a few, Nityananda, Ramakrishna, Buddha, Neem Karoli Baba, Krishnamurti, Rumi, Buddha, Christ, Milarepa, Sarada Devi, Ramana) and am inclined to pay attention to what they say. My opinion as to their ultimate state is relevant to nothing, though. One has a sense of their authenticity or not.

If they say something or make some teaching, it has no meaning to me or anyone else to opine as to whether they are enlightened. It has to be PRACTICAL, something I can actually follow and carry out. If the fruits of a practice come to me, then I can speak on the basis of my own experience and authority about that particular thing.

If you are speaking about a practice from a position of not having engaged it to the point of maturity and realization, then what the fuck!? OK, you have some faith. That's fine. Snake handlers and Jerry Falwell also have faith. Who needs someone else's faith? We have our own. You should get some fruits.

Humility is easy to say, but IMO, it's not especially full of opinions. One might reasonably ask, if you have humility, who the fuck are you to have opinions? What makes you that important to me or anyone else? (This is a rhetorical query.)

In sum, I think it has no authenticity at all for you to make such detailed assumptions about how Ramana thought, what was his view of enlightened persons/unenlightened persons. You can make only crude, grossly approximate statements based upon reading books and, at best, some intuition. If you could actually put yourself precisely in his position, then you would not have to be citing Ramana to give your statements added weight.

And when you say we must have discrimination, this is exactly part of it. Your approximate versions of how the enlightened Ramana (your presumption) saw things, is (here's the discrimination) light years away from the fact of Ramana actually seeing the thing. You are not, by your own admission, in that place. So what you do is called proselytizing.

. . .it's no more harmful to call yourself unenlightened as it is to say you are not the President of the United States

Here again you blatantly mix the dual and the nondual. To be President is a mundane, dualistic condition. To be enlightened is not. Yet you fallaciously pretend these two things are on the same level so you can rationalize your behavior.

I read the works of enlightened beings – because they can help me.

Yeah, sure, not. What will help you if you actually practice and not just talk about practicing, and by practice I mean realize as well, as I explained before. Practice and realization are not (in the way I speak of it) two distinct things separated by time or whatever.

But aside from these few points, and many others I haven't addressed, I agree completely with everything you've written. ;-) Ha ha ha. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

You all may be intrigued by an article at Integral World written by Alan Kazlev. He offers a critique of Wilberian Integralism and uses insights from Sri Aurobindo's Integral Yoga. Go to this link,

then look to the right hand side bar for an article entitled

"Towards a Larger Definition of
the Integral: An Aurobindonian vision and a critique of the Wilberian paradigm

Part Two: The Wilberian paradigm – a fourfold critique Alan Kazlev
Within the article, the section on abusive gurus and the problem of getting trapped in intermediate zones of spiriutal development are fascinating. One may be enlightened, have genuine powers, even up to a point be capable of healing or enlightening others, yet not have reached full realization oneself.

Kazlev has some very interesting hunches concerning Adi Da and other such gurus and the whole enlightenment question.