I recently received an interesting letter from a reader of my book and a fellow student of life, Philippe Vermeiren. I requested his permission for the two of us to continue our conversation on this Forum, rather than sharing our communications by email alone. He generously agreed, and what follows is his latest letter in which he shares some valuable quesions and thoughts, and my replies
I have no problem at all to put our discussion on your forum if this shall not create any confusion for myself or the other people sharing this discussion. Anyway I trust your idea.>>
(M) Yes. Let's see where this takes us. You never know, we may get some thoughtul and instructive replies from some of the participants of this Forum.
>>Moreover, I am a ”thought attention knot at 100 %, 24 karats”. So if someone would need a strong case study for his PhD, I would be the best object-subject to deal with J.>>
(M) Who is not 100% addicted to the habitual movements of thought and attention as I describe in my books?
>>However, I am not sure that all my points can be directly related to your book: my discussion points arise out of the well of my existential distress.>>
(M) No problem. We take the issues as you present them and as they unfold during our discussions.
>> I am basically interested in the metaphysical questions, such as creation/creator which would lead me to understanding life. However, the brain providing us with explanations is only using a small fraction of the cosmic intelligence, so I am afraid that in this body i will never understand.>>
(M) Yes. You have answered your own question/statement. True 'understanding is a living experience. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the ability to think around our self-generated concepts about things. Thought is not the instrument through which we will 'arrive' at what we already are in the deepest sense of the word. With regard my sense of metaphysics: I stick on this one with the Buddha who preferred not to discuss such matters. It is simply futile as it is nothing but speculation. I feel uncomfortable with speculating about these matters of life and living.
>>Nisargadatta used to say that there is only “I am that” because all the rest are mere concepts created by the mind.>>
(M) This is an interesting take on what Nisargadatta have or have not said. I think when he referred to the term ' that', he wrote it with a capital 'T. But to make my undwerstanding about Nisargadatta's veiw in this regard more clear, let me refer you briefly to a short essay I wrote some time ago, (quoting it below in full)using the Nisargadatta line as point of departure. Enjoy!
>>>MOLLER'S COMMENTARY ON NISARGADATTA
I was reading from Nisargadatta’s book, ‘I am That’, this morning, and stumbled upon these interesting and profound few lines:
Nisargadatta: ‘You are on the level of mind. When the ‘I am myself’ goes, the ‘I am all’ comes. When the ‘I am all’ goes, ‘I am’ comes. When even ‘I am’ goes, reality alone is…’
Möller: My sense of what Nisargadatta tries to communicate here is that the levels of ‘mind’ are very subtly embedded in our being and that these could very easily be mistaken for reality.
The first level of confusion Nisargadatta points to is that at first I am totally identified with mind. The centre of everything is me and myself and this me presents itself as the observer, the doer, the thinker, the consciousness behind all experiences which it regards as not-self. This is the fundamental dualistic condition of the ‘I’ in the I-conscious state. Here mind takes on the dualistic vision of me and myself, the separate self-sense.
When this world of self and other (I am myself) begins to fall apart through introspection and perhaps some kinds of insight, it becomes apparent that this dualistic proposition is no longer sustainable. Not yet being fully embraced in the living experience of the non-dual fact of life, the Mind then projects a vision of what it believes wholeness is and comes to the conclusion that ‘I am all’. Here the delusion of separation is not so apparent because while we are absorbed in the mind, any projection of mind as wholeness appears to us as wholeness itself.
For instance, I have often been critical of what I have called the Advaitist Dream. Here, being unknowingly caught in the world of thought (mind), when thought projects the notion of the non-separation of everything as Consciousness, the individual truly believes that they stand in the fullness of the Unitive, direct experience of Consciousness. ( I am not suggesting there is such a ‘thing’ as Consciousness. I am merely repeating their supposition that there is). In this, the projection of thought about Wholeness gets mistaken for reality, and the individual lives a misunderstanding mistaken for Truth. This gives many the false notion that they are truly enlightened, while in truth they are only entranced by the mere thought about enlightenment (non-duality), which clearly is not the living, experiential reality of it. Here the delusion is very difficult to break free from, because, through such identification, the individual is deeply convinced that the state they describe is the genuine article.
Now, someone comes along and tap such a person on the shoulder and say to them: ‘Listen, my friend, perhaps you are fooling yourself about your own enlightened state. If you were to stop for one moment projecting the notion of your inherent wholeness, would you still be enlightened, whole, non-dual? So, what came first, your enlightenment, or the thought-projection of enlightenment? Does your ‘enlightenment’ exist as a living truth when thought is not around to confirm its own projection about ‘your’ (note the dualism) non-dual state?’
This sets the guy thinking again, and let’s say they abandon their identification with the thought if non-dualism.
Now they ask themselves, but to whom did this thought occur? After all, this thought did occur to some inner principle, otherwise how could it have been noticed? Here the fellow moves into the third state of delusion Nisargadatta points to: ‘I am’. Now the person becomes convinced that there is nothing more fundamental to their life than this mere sense of ‘I am’. And when they read books about these matters, they get confirmation from many Neo-Advaitist writings that this ‘I am’, is the genuine article. It is the Witness, the eternal One behind all appearances.
This makes immediate sense to such a person because it confirms (note: all confirmation at this level of delusion is created and sustained by thought) the suspicion they have always had that the observer is real and that everything appears to me as the observer. But because this dualistic state has never been properly inspected, so that the falseness of it has been seen for what it is, the individual now becomes totally convinced that the Witness is the final truth to human life. They now assume the position of the objective observer, the mere Witness of passing events – no longer affected by the vicissitudes of changing life circumstances.
Yet again, we notice the subtle delusion Nisargadatta is pointing to here. This is still a state of mind, and of no higher quality than any other projection of thought. The Witness still rests on the subtle projection of separation between the observer and the observed. Thought may create the image of the free person who merely looks at life as a mirror would reflect events objectively to itself, and therefore as existing separately, and in freedom, from its own reflective surface. Unfortunately this subtle thought gets mistaken for reality through the power of identification.
Because such an individual has not investigated the binding power of identification and the inner workings of thought and attention which hold such forms of identification in place, they completely become identified with this new projection of thought – the Witness, ‘I am’. And this notion finds resonance in many of the traditional teachings where consciousness is described as the Ultimate Witness, and the need for complete identification between one’s personal sense of the ‘observer’, (the Jiva or ‘I’) and the Universal notion of ‘Consciousness’ or ‘Self’. In this way, Nisargadatta points out that even here the illusion of separateness remains intact.
Then, when this illusion of the free separate observer gets shattered by the challenges of life and the painful realization that such objective ‘Witnessing’ does not resolve deep emotional and traumatic incidents in one’s life, or other forms of self-created suffering, it may begin to dawn on such an individual that yet another step needs to be taken. Freedom from suffering is not yet the case. But how?
Again, if through luck, co-incidence or the kind suggestion of a true spiritual friend, such a person is made aware, or become aware, of the falseness of the entire project of thought projecting some truth about things and how through identification with this ‘truth’ it assumes the disposition of reality, the direct path to freedom is entered. Although still conditioned by the power of identification, projection and transference, the individual now begins to assume responsibility for their own inner activities. They begin to observe the workings of thought, attention, awareness, identification and so on. And with correct guidance and a dedicated heart, it may gradually dawn on such a person that mind is the slayer of truth. They realize that no aspect of mind could be trusted to allow for the revelation of the natural non-dual condition of the living moment. Mind, in its varied subtle manifestations, can now be observed, re-cognized for what it is, and gradually being transcended.
At this point all states of self-contraction begin to relax, and when the entire process of seeking and projection begins to fragment and starts to fall away by non-use, and the instruments of delusion no longer function in unawareness, ‘reality alone’ begins to shine through the fog of confusion and self-delusion. Here no sense of ‘I’ remains. Only then can we resonate freely with Nisargadatta’s statement: ‘Reality alone exists’.
Then there is truly no other. There is only This, or What Is, with no-one to notice it. Already the case.>>>
(M) Hope this makes sense.
(Back to Philippe)
>>Herewith a few points:
Concerning the integration of the western and eastern approach, there has been a recent teacher Swami Prajnanpad, who combined the western psychology with Vedanta. As far as I understand, people in the east, when the original teachings started, where not so neurotic as we are now in the West so that there was no special need for psychotherapy. Though in Buddhism there are a lot of teachers discussing in much detail the workings of the human mind, isn’t it?>>
(M) My sense is that we simply cannot by-pass psychology – ancient or modern. This attempt to by-pass psychology is to me one of the most crucial failings of most spiritual paths. The possibility of spiritual life (i.e. life beyond the dictates of the separate self-sense, including the thought attention knot)does not arise while we are immersed in our self-contracted states of psychological confusion.
>>As I understand the Advaita vedanta viewpoint does not separate God from the human beings: …“We just have covered up our true Self (God) with all kind of identifications. In fact, God is playing lila through the dreamworld of maya: we are god but we have to remember!” What do you say about this point of view which is one of the most sensitive approaches as far as my understanding is concerned.>>
(M) This statement that God is playing games with the dream he is presumed to have created, is exactly one of the many speculative absurdities mankind has devised to explain the fundamental flaw in all the gods it has created. Who would want to become one with a creature who has the power to dream up stuff and make the dream so real that those who function in the dream are confronted with immeasurable suffering and confusion? If this is the nature of my true self, then I'd rather not have anything to do with it. Such a God can keep his diabolical dream to himself ,and I would rather try to discover for myself the art of living with intelligence, humanity, love and happiness.
>>This KNOT you are describing in your book is a most intelligent approach of the human condition: it is so self-evident and striking that almost nobody sees it. >.
(M) Yes. It has not been noticed before and I also wonder why not. It is so clear and simple. And all-encompassing.
>>If this could be resolved the result would be the only necessary revolution for mankind?!>>
(M) Indeed! First resolve the thought/attention dilemma and see what remains to be done to secure happiness, intelligence,freedom, humaneness and love.
>>… but still in a dream world isn’t it? >>
(M) The world is as real as our experience of it. Everything exists in reality. The dream only refers to what we make of it. That is why Nisargadatta at the end of the piece above says: 'Then there only reality'. He does not deny the reality, but takes away the false sense we have of reality and ourselves.
>>Also W. Shakespeare: “we are such stuff as dreams are made on”, supports the advaita vision.>>
(M) The Advaita vision of Shankara is purely idealistic. In order to confirm Brahman as the only reality, he had to describe the world as illusion. His problem is Brahman – only he does not recognise that his Brahman is nothing but another reality mistaken for truth. Brahman is a process, not a thing.
>>Not to forget Ramana Maharshi: “there has never been any creation…”>>
(M) In this statement Ramana does not deny the existence of the world. All he says is that 'there was never any creation'. I cannot interpret him, but if I was forced to say something here, he may suggest that the world comes into being in every moment of living reality – it was never created at some point in the past by some creature we generally refer to as God or Brahman. This is much in line with my insight with regard to how things appear to us.
>>I also think that indeed there is only consciousness playing the world. I relate this statement to quantum physics and ordinary dream experiences.>.
(M) It is not for me to what consciousness does or not do. Personally I have no sense of there being any thing, state or condition called consciousness. We appear to be aware and that is about as far as i may go on this one. But to me this does not imply that we therefore have something called awareness. To be conscious, is not to have consciousness. Its the therefore that's the mistake. 'Therefore' takes us back into mind. I think we should make a clear distinction here lest we start believing in something our mind has constructed from thinking about a mere process.
>>How does your teaching relate to the “who am i?” from Sri Ramana Maharshi?>>
(M) This is a most excellent approach to go beyond the limited self-sense. However, I prefer the Zen approach which asks right from the start: 'Who or what were you before you were born?' Or ' What is your original face before you were born?' Maharshi could easily be misunderstood in that folks may assume from the question that there is indeed a 'self' or 'I' to be ultimately known or perceived, it must just be discovered or uncovered. But from my point of view there is no self ever to be discovered. There is only intelligent, compassionate living. No-one doing it. This no-one is our original face before we were born. But it is a process, not a thing or some inner actor.
>>Your book or your teachings shall hopefully be my last stepping stone to reach where I already am and belong. Sometimes it is hard to follow, maybe my English is to weak, but you have written a new more accessible version, isn’t it?>>
(M) Yes. I agree it may be difficult to follow as my English (my second language) is still somewhat unrefined. But please try to follow the work despite the shortcomings in the presentation.