Friday, December 17, 2010

Esoteric Submission To Limitation and the Unlimited

There's a new post from Elias in response to my latest, but unfortunately not much worth responding to in it. Not that I expected this would go very far.

Some basic disclosure is perhaps necessary at this point. Elias and I have never gotten along very well, as many who frequent this blog and his forum are aware, though sometimes our disagreements lead to interesting exchanges. A few months ago over at Lightmind, things got rather bizarre from my point of view, with Elias leveling some rather strange and paranoid charges at me for "betraying" Ramana and other "crimes against the Self", or something incomprehensible like that. Obviously there was and is a serious disconnect going on between us, and undoubtedly we each see the other as being at fault. I wrote a response basically describing Elias as a "spiritual narcissist", and he responded by banning me from Lightmind. Which, to be perfectly honest, was something of a favor.

In any case, when Elias recently began writing again about Adi Da, and responding to things I posted here, I asked him to let me engage him again at Lightmind, but he declined, and so we're left engaging one another at a distance. Which would be fine if it stayed on topic, but it hasn't, and the personal issues between the two of us are getting in the way, and aren't even very interesting in the first place. When someone says of me that "he gives me a very creepy feeling, that something in his mind is set against the Self as the property and native state of every individual," I really don't have anything much to say, except c'est la vie. Is it happens, I really cannot comprehend the notion of the Self being anyone's property, or there being any sense at all behind that notion. It's pretty hard for me to square that with the understanding of the Self as inherently free, beyond all ego and ownership, and the very embodiment of freedom itself, since property is the opposite of freedom, as any slave will tell you. I can only comprehend that statement as something a spiritual narcissist would say about the Self, so I guess my earlier diagnosis seems to fit.

Not wishing this thread of samyama to disappear under waves of creepy feelings, however, I thought I'd continue on with some further thoughts I had on the general topic, and specifically on how these issues relate to Adi Da and his teaching drama.

One of those thoughts was brought on by a comment MDPC at the Lightmind Forums wrote in response to my last post:

BY: "What is limited must have limits placed on it, in order that what is unlimited can gain its freedom. If we don't limit our limited mind and life, we don't allow the unlimited spirit its true place as the final "authority" over us. We just become crazy, self-indulgent, full of ourselves, and convinced that we are great beings of unlimited intelligence and spirituality, whereas that is never true of any "one", it is only true of the One Self. To know that, we must bow down, which means surrendering all that is limited, all that is conditional, to the authority of the unconditional Divine."
MDPC: Ha, wait, what?? Everything else in that paragraph makes sense to me. I'm assuming it [the boldface sentence] was maybe an instance of awkward wording as opposed to some egregious laxity in understanding stuff, but why the lapse there into, um, some "radical duality"?
Perhaps that phrase was oddly worded, but I think it makes an important point that stands out precisely because we tend to think of these things in "non-dual" terms. Having read about non-dualism, we tend to think that the unlimited cannot be limited, and that what is free cannot be contained, or made one's "property". And though in truth that is the case, in the harsh realm of human suffering the opposite is the case. That is what duality is all about. The non-dual, indivisible reality is made to seem separate and divided. Consciousness itself is experienced that way, as a separate, divided, and suffering sense of personal identity. Freedom becomes a goal, rather than our very nature. The unlimited and unconditional becomes a distant object of desire, or is considered a fantasy of remote and abstracted concepts. We find ourselves oddly surrounded by limitations everywhere we look, such that even our own sense of self is defined by these limitations. That is what it means to be identified with a body and mind. The sense of limitation becomes our very identity, and we struggle to overcome it.

And thus we are conditioned to struggle with limitations, and to resent every kind of limitation that seems to be placed upon us by others, from parents to teachers to government authorities to religious leaders to Gurus. We don't seem to readily comprehend the notion that we have it all backwards, that it is we who are imposing limitations upon ourselves, not anyone else. And that the primary limitation we impose upon ourselves is the sense of identification with forms, with mind and body, and of course with dualism itself. We somehow wish to attain liberation from limitation while yet being identified with limited forms of mind and body, and this produces a terrible and insoluable dilemma. We think that by making mind and body unlimited, we will escape this dilemma, but that never works, because no matter what we can achieve with mind and body, it always represents a limit, no matter how great. Even the tallest mountain we may climb is still just as far away from infinity as the smallest hilltop.

This is why spiritual wisdom begins with the recognition of our limits for what they are - limited - and applying appropriate limits to them. That is why discipline is appropriate. Not because we need authoritarian control from above, but because everything we identify with is limited, and therefore it is perfectly appropriate to have a limit placed on it. A Guru isn't an authoritarian Hitler for pointing this out. It's just his job to make clear the nature of things, and that means making it clear that limited things are limited and have to be treated that way. And by recognizing this, we are actually freed up from the pursuit of unlimitedness in what is simply and inherently limited. As the old county-western song kind of says, we have been looking for the unlimited in all the wrong places. We need to stop looking for the unlimited in limited things, and start looking for the unlimited in what is truly unlimited.

So the first step in this process means accepting the limits in what is limited. That means accepting that there is a natural and inherent discipline required in every ordinary area of life. This means getting over ourselves and all our dreams of unlimited success and attainment in ordinary life. It means in a very basic sense becoming a renunciate, one who has given up that illusory search. It doesn't mean that one literally has no participation in life or "worldly" activities, it just means one knows they are limited and can only achieve limited results, and one doesn't expect unlimited happiness or liberation in those pursuits. One even begins to see that limits are all pretty much the same, and that whatever one gets in such things is simply a grace, a gift of God, and that one can be happy with whatever result one gets in life.

This is what the Bhagavad Gita means when it describes the path of Karma Yoga being that of "not caring for the results of one's actions". This is what it means to have a "non-dual approach" to the ordinary functional matters of life. One is thankful for whatever comes, and not resentful or reactive towards how things turn out, measuring the results against some standard of expectation.

The very word "Maya", meaning the illusion of conditional existence, actually originates from a word meaning "to measure". Everything we can measure is an illusion, and that means everything in this world is fundamentally illusory. That is why it is appropriate to limit them, to discipline them, to not expect unlimited results from them.  If it can be measured, it's limited, and thus "Maya". If it's unlimited, it cannot be measured, and thus it cannot have a limit placed upon it.

This is why the standard approach of spirituality is to place limits and disciplines upon all our "measurable" activities. By placing limits on these things, our attention is actually freed up to be given over to the unlimited. And that is how the unlimited attains its freedom. Without that, the unlimited remains hidden behind the facade of all our seeking within the realm of limitation, just as Brahman remains hidden behind the mask of Maya.

The idea that the unlimited is not free will of course strike one as contradictory. And it is. But that is the point of the unliberated person's awareness. They are living in a contradictory consciousness, in which what is unlimited has been overshadowed by limitations at every turn, such that the unlimited is not seen, and so rather than turning to the unlimited, we become obsessed with seeking the limited, yet in an unlimited fashion! That is why our seeking is literally endless. We desire what is unlimited, but all we see is limitation, so we become condemned to an endless cycle of seeking in and through these limitations for an unlimited experience that lasts forever. It never happens. It can never happen. It is the very definition of insanity, which is "doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result". The only "forever" we experience is the eternity of our seeking, never of attaining.

Until we begin to see the insanity of what we are doing, however, we are condemned to repeat ourselves, running through all the possible limited searches we can possibly come up with, in the hope that one of them will pay off in an unlimited fashion. It's not until we begin to gain at least a little insight into this dead-end cycle that we can begin a genuine spiritual life. What we previously thought were spiritual pursuits are finally understood as merely more exotic ways of doing the same thing, meaning seeking the unlimited in things that are still limited. Yes, we can gain "esoteric" experiences of the psychic realms, and feel all kinds of great and wonderful things in the process, and this may give us hope that we are on the right track for a while. But eventually we discover that even these so-called spiritual pursuits are limited, and the only thing unlimited about them is the seeking, not the results.

So what is genuine spiritual esotericism about? First of all, it's about the profound acceptance of the limited nature of conditional existence. To some, that sounds like a real "downer", when in fact its one of the most liberating experiences there is. If it's just a concept, sure, it's no big deal. But if one really comes to the point of feeling and accepting in one's feeling the sheer finality of this truth, it is utterly liberating. And why? Because in that moment, one no longer has one's attention bound to that limited search any longer. The felt experience of this insight is so profound that it breaks open the universe, it breaks open one's heart, and one is able to find direct experience of the truly unlimited nature of reality. This is the heart-breaking truth. It comes when the suffering of limitations is so profound and inescapable that one can only stand in place and feel the truth of this limited view, and by standing still, see what has never been limited at all.

And this is why the Guru simply stands still, in silence, in one's heart, and the essential practice of spiritual life is nothing more than that stillness. In relation to the limits of the world, the practice is simply to accept the reasonable and inherent limits they represent, and not to react or rebel or fight against them, but to simply be thankful for whatever comes our way. In relation to the Guru, however - and by "Guru" I mean that inner and still Presence that opens up to us when we stand still - we should accept and practice no limitation whatsoever. If we identify the Guru with some limited form or being or symbol, we cannot confuse this with the Guru's unlimited nature. We cannot expect the form of the Guru to be unlimited, or we make the same mistake we previously made with our own ordinary life pursuits. The nature of the Guru is the same unlimited and unconditional nature that is made available to us by the acceptance of the limits of our own form. So we must accept the limits of the Guru's form in the same way that we accept - and discipline - all other limited forms, but open ourselves to the Guru's unlimited nature.

Meditation is in reality nothing more than to contemplate this unlimited nature. And that is why it is so important to accept the disciplined limits on the body and mind that are the requisites for contemplation. That is why a true Guru will always require that we accept limits and discipline in relation to our bodily life in form, and yet also steer our attention away from these in order that we may genuinely meditate upon the unlimited Self-nature in the heart, prior to all form. The real Guru is beyond all forms, beyond all limits, but we don't see that as long as we are obsessed with our own limited form and what kind of results we can get from it. And so that is why the Guru must be "freed" from the bondage we have kept him hidden from view behind, the mask of "Maya", the measuring of things that is our constant obsession.

So genuine esotericism only begins at this point. Previous to this understanding, we can have all kinds of incredible "spiritual" experiences. But none of them are genuinely esoteric. Likewise, we can have a relationship to a Guru that we think is esoteric, because of all the great psychic experiences that we seem to be opening up to. But a genuine Guru knows that none of that is what true esotericism is about. He knows that esotericism only begins when our seeking is surrendered and the heart breaks open by the power of the acceptance of our limits, our suffering of them, and the grace this allows into our lives.

So a genuinely disciplined esoteric practitioners is not some kind of heroic athlete. They have not attained some great disciplined ability to do masterful things. Nor are they some poor sucker who has been beaten into submission by a domineering Guru. They are simply wise enough to accept with deepest feeling the limitations that conditional existence is all about, and yet by that to open to what is unlimited and beyond all conditionality. This produces a natural form of discipline that does not react to, but instead welcomes these limits. The esoteric devotee accepts the Guru's instructions in all areas of life as a liberating gift that frees their attention to meditate upon the Guru's, and their own, unlimited nature. And so he is immensely grateful to the Guru for his instruction, and follows it without resistance, seeing it as the very means of his liberation.

Of course, the kicker here is that the Guru must be a genuinely free and liberated man, who is transparent to the Self, and thus incapable of abusing his relationship to the devotee for egoic purposes. There are few Gurus who fit this bill, of course. And yet, if the devotee's intentions are true and purposed towards freedom, even an imperfect Guru can serve him, at least for a time. Eventually, Grace will bring him to a Guru who can actually fulfill the esoteric process, regardless of how it has begun.

And of course it's important to remember that few devotees are entirely clear and complete in their understanding and acceptance of these basic truths and principles of spiritual esotericism. Some mixing of purity and corrupted values and understanding is inevitable until the very end of the line. So the devotee is likely to continue to seek through limited means even once he has experienced the awakening to the genuine esoteric process. He can even forget or refuse these insights and wisdom or confuse them and become enamoured of mistaken methods. So there is seldom a simplistic linear narrative unfolding in anyone's actual life and practice. But the principles do become clearer and more simple over time, and the essential progress of esoteric practice involves the growth of clarity and maturity in this understanding. Which means, above all else, simple surrender to the most basic form of the Guru's instruction, whatever that might be.

The most esoterically mature devotee is thus the one who simply does what the Guru instructs. Of course, this requires a Guru who is acting as a transparent vessel of the Self, leading the devotee directly to the Self, rather than towards the fulfilment of his own needs or limitations. Doing what an egoically impure Guru does will not lead to maturity or realization, it will only lead to complication and confusion. Or to a difficult to disentangle combination of the two. Which is where I would put Adi Da's efforts to create a spiritual relationship with his devotees.

Adi Da of course considered himself to be a perfect and unlimited Agent of the Divine. But most of those who were his devotees couldn't help but notice quite a lot of ego getting in the way at times. To hear Da tell it, all the ego problems were on the part of his devotees, but even a simple unbiased examination would demonstrate otherwise. The problem, of course, is that when one is a devotee of such a Guru, it's almost impossible to be unbiased. So endless explanations were accepted to explain Adi Da's limitations, and endless excuses created to divert any doubts back upon the devotee. But regardless of how one explains that, in my many years of being in Adidam, one thing I think was incontrovertible was that virtually none of his devotees were ever able to fully trust his life-level instructions.

Certainly many devotees would pay lip service to the notion that Da was trustworthy, or even infallible. But none that I was aware of actually acted in such a manner. If they tried to, the inevitable result was simple cultism, exemplified by all the usual manifestations of "cognitive dissonance". In fact, I had many conversations and interactions with a lot of the most sincere and devoted inner circle devotees occupying the highest and most responsible positions in Adidam, and I can say without question that none of them fully trusted Adi Da. In fact, they often openly made clear that they didn't trust him at all, and that it was essential to hide from him all kinds of information which they didn't trust him with, about themselves, about Adidam, about even basic matters of ordinary life. Many of them were terrified that Adi Da would find out what they had been up to, and for good reason, in that he regularly exploded into rages and waged war on devotees and threatened to leave or even die if things were not to his liking. Or he would make demands upon them that they did not trust were in their own best interests, from financial demands to living circumstance demands to sexual demands, you name it.

So the biggest problem in Adidam as far as I could see was the lack of trust between himself and his devotees. It was a mutual problem, in that Adi Da didn't trust his devotees either. And whosoever's fault that was ultimately, it accounts for the massive failure of the Adidam practice. How could it be otherwise? The trust between Guru and devotee is the fundamental foundation of the entire esoteric process, and without that trust it is constantly being disrupted and unable to mature or proceed to any favorable result.

In the genuine esoteric spiritual process, the relationship between Guru and devotee is all about building up that mutual trust, so that the Guru can trust the intentions of his devotee, and the devotee can trust the instructions of his Guru. The Guru acts in a way to build that trust, not to tear it down. In Adidam, however, Adi Da was constantly destroying the trust of his devotees. He would claim that this was because he wished to create a radical form of trust, but that never seemed to occur, and instead it created a pathological and highly contentious situation in which neither could be trusted. Adi Da lied to his devotees on a regular basis, and they lied to him as well. And they both lied to everyone else on down the line. Essentially, the whole of Adidam become little more than an endless series of lies that built into a gigantic lie, and eventually people noticed this, either in whole or in part. This is why so many ended up leaving Adidam and having very little to do with it. If one comes to a spiritual group looking for truth, and ends up being lied to, it tends to push people away. Those who stayed around ended up living a lie, or many lies, while yet hoping that truth would win out in the end. And the tension between those lies and the truth became a terrible burden to carry around. How people were able to resolve those conflicts is a fascinating question, one I can only answer in my own case (and I think I've already addressed that).

One can say that Adidam was a sincere attempt by Adi Da to create a genuine Guru-devotee relationship, one that got down to some kind of radical truth. There was something profoundly dear in his own efforts, and even the efforts of his devotees, that is probably missed by those who weren't there for it. But it never quite got there, that's for sure. In moments it did, but that's true for all kinds of spiritual pursuits with less pretentious claims. It created a lot of amusing theatricality, and lots of stories to be told, but the genuine esoteric process tended to be missing most of the time, and never was able to ground itself or become genuinely effective. Therefore it's rather to be expected that most of the people who claim to have had a genuinely "esoteric" relationship to Adi Da are those who had the least to do with him. But these people are, for the most part, unable to comprehend what esotericism is even about, and don't even know what kind of claim it is they are making. Esotericism has nothing to do with feeling powerful energies when one thinks about a Guru - unless those powerful energies leads one to submit and surrender oneself to their instruction and give up one's seeking.

So in many respects Da had it right when he said that anyone who wished to have an esoteric relationship to him must submit to his instruction and approach in the manner his instruction required - through the formal disciplines and practices he established in the Adidam community, mission, institution and culture. If nothing else, it's his prerogative to say how people could relate to him if he wished to do it that way. And it's certainly within the general outline of sanatana dharma to do things this way, if not quite in such an organized, scientology-like structure. Adi Da was certainly one to go to extremes, and this is in part what made him so difficult to trust. The traditional Guru-devotee relationship is seldom equated with organizational membership as an intermediary process, though I suppose some of the traditional monastic orders functioned this way. Rather than increasing genuine trust, however, this tended to require trust not only in Adi Da himself, but in the community, institution, culture, and mission, each of which were even less trustworthy than Adi Da himself. So the whole thing was really quite a mess, and almost impossible to disentangle oneself from.

Similar problems have occurred in lots of spiritual groups, of course, large and small, both in the east and west. It's hardly unique. It's just a bit more exaggerated in Adidam than in most. But it's hardly the worst example of a distorted spiritual relationship either. One has to maintain a certain realistic perspective on Adidam, and not get carried away even by valid criticism. There were a lot worse teachers around, a lot of whom were far less spiritually awake than Adi Da. Given the time and place and the difficulties all of us had, he did better than might be expected. Just worse than we hoped. But it's important to be grateful for whatever results came from it, including the learning of many lessons that evidently a lot of us needed to learn. Blessed be those who didn't need such lessons, but at least we got them. I think.


thereal said...

I went and read Elias' loving and cheerful reply to you. If his idea of "Love one another as I have loved you...and do unto others as you would have them do unto you..." is telling you that you give him a creepy feeling, what does that say about him? How do you say screw with your head? He's saying "Be like me, I'm only love and by the way, I think you're a creep." Remind you of anyone?

Broken Yogi said...

Yes, you're right, very loving indeed.

I see that Elias is now saying he merely "de-activated my account", rather than banning me. Is there a difference? Like I say, he's doing me a favor, but why describe his actions in this manner? Who gets "de-activated" for not writing on the forum for a couple of months? And who gets turned down for re-activation when they request it and wish to post again? I guess someone who is banned for personal reasons. Now, Lightmind is of course Elias' forum and he can do as he please. But come on.

thereal said...

PS: BY: "What is limited must have limits placed on it, in order that what is unlimited can gain its freedom."

When I read this I was reminded of a joke an old swami told me.

Question: What is the difference between genius and stupidity?

Answer: Genius has limits.

thereal said...

One more thing.

I read Elias' follow up on the philosophy of limitations. He says some wise stuff and it is well said. I have to admit I liked a lot of it. Strangely enough, he seems entirely unconscious of the message and feeling underlying his communication. The message that he is greatly enjoying a state of loving enlightenment and that you should be like him. But since you are not like him it really sucks to be you. You are an unfortunate slug if you are not experiencing God as he experiences God.

It's funny how these guys take this archetypal pattern of ignorant harmfulness on. I don't know if they know how harmful they are being to others with their endless one-up-manship.

Of course you are not him and never will be him, nor will you ever have his experience. That goes for all beings. You will never know what any of these enlightened beings experience. You can only know your own experience and your own experiences of enlightenment. That's where the magic is. All you can do is compare notes.

Forget that guy's psychological power games. That's his way. You have your way. Good luck.