The Nature of Volition
Action without a Doer
Perception Without a Perceiver
And Other Non-Dual Convulsions
By Peter Holleran
"None of us is thrown into this world against his will. All of us are here
because we want to be here...Some are eager to descend into a body again,
but others are reluctant and are half-dragged down." - Paul Brunton
ND: I really liked the trailer form the movie Shane you shared in our second dialogue. Now I can't help but respond with a favorite clip of mine from the movie Scarface. it exemplifies the spirit of our discussion, heh heh.
I: Funny man. But did you say that of your own volition, or was it just a determined automatic response from the Absolute, the Unborn or the One as you like to say? Can you even take credit for your cleverness? I assume your answer will be no, absolutely not, since, according to non-dualist teachers like Ramesh Balsekar and Nisardgadatta - which you have expressed sympathy with - it is all a predetermined display without a separate doer anywhere to be found.
ND: You are quite correct. And it is fruitless to even assume such a one for the sake of practical
living. There is no one who does, or decides to do, anything. It is all just happening. Try and see for yourself if there is a doer anywhere. You won't find one. You can realize this by trying the enquiry "Who Am I?", or just by seeing if you can actually find a separate doer. Sri Nisargadatta emphasized the latter approach, while Ramana favored the former.
I: I like Nisargadatta, although, you know, Robert Adams, whom I think you also appreciate, thought he distorted advaita a bit. And, in my opinion, Ramesh took it a little further off track. But we already handled that in our last discussion. And you now know what Yogananda said about the matter of self-effort being futile, that God does not act capriciously, but conforms to his own laws. I would like to offer some quotes by PB along these lines to give a counter-balance to your radical non-dual presentation. I think by now we can agree that any conceptual approach or position will be paradoxical and only a pointer to the real, but from a practical point of view, the way we formulate the spiritual quest has implications for our understanding. Ramesh made some unsupported assumptions about consciousness and what happens after death which we have discussed, and I feel similar mistakes have been made with the idea of free will. It may come down in the end to whether or not one buys a form of argument like that of Plotinus and PB, that there is an Absolute Soul which eternally births non-separate but individual divine Souls. If that is the case, talk of evolving around and into the World-Idea makes sense, and we can discuss practical aspects of the quest. If there is only one self, as the advaitins claim, then there is nothing much for us to talk about, but if that is itself recognized to be a concept, (which it is), then perhaps the traditions may still contain much food for thought.
I: O.K. Well, Paul Cash once wrote me the following:
"PB talked one day about free will and predetermination. He said that people who stand for free will are partly right, and so are those who stand for predetermination. Each has something to hear from the other side. When you look at it carefully, he said, life is a highly ordered structure of opportunities. Some of those opportunities are material, some are spiritual. We have no control over the order in which they appear or the time at which they appear. He talked about how if you really understand astrology you can see that the chart is this carefully structured
sequence of opportunities that emerge and pass in only one order, in one direction, and in an irreversible way. That's the predetermined part. But then he explained how these opportunities are presented to a soul that is free at every moment to align itself or refuse to align itself inwardly with the opportunity as it arises. If the soul aligns itself with the opportunity, a certain series of events unfolds; if the soul doesn't, that series of events doesn't unfold. Each "choice" if we can call it that at that level has consequences, and life never presents exactly the same opportunity again.
At any given time, we're living out the consequences of choices made earlier. What we've inwardly aligned with plays itself out as well as it can in the context of the other circumstances in which we live. In that sense, our lives are predetermined in the short run: things already
set in motion must generally run their course. At a deep level, our whole version of the world--and what's possible in it--comes about through the filter of the tendencies we've developed and desires we've strengthened through our own repeated choices. But we're also free to change the direction of our lives by the way we respond to the next opportunity; so in the long run free will has the day. I wish now that I had thought to ask P.B. what he meant by "short run" and "long run." But I didn't."
I told Paul that the Masters in Sant Mat, speaking in simple, practical terms, perhaps not in an ultimate metaphysical way, generally have said that there is 25% free will, and 75% determined. Paul responded to me that what fascinated him was thinking of how the consequences of choosing to exercise/develop that power of choice differ from the consequences of choosing not to exercise it. He perked up at the idea that maybe our choices only matter a quarter of the time, but then, wondered, how would we figure out which quarter?
ND: There is no way to figure out which quarter and there is NO QUARTER of the time free-will, because there is no separate doer to have free-will.
I: But there must at least be the appearance of a separate doer, and within that appearance maybe 25% of the time there is free-will and 75% everything is determined. Within the dream we must make choices with real consequences 25% of the time, and, true, we have no way of knowing when we must make them. However, a good guess would be that if we try something over and over again and get a negative result, or get stymied everytime we try, then maybe that is not a destined goal for us to achieve. That is, maybe it is not in alignment with the World-Idea, which divine intelligence is steering us towards. Then we use our intuition or just keep quiet until we feel the guidance to move in a particular direction.
ND: Well, I'll grant you that in the dream there all sorts of appearances, free will and determinism both arise within Mind. Have you read of the experiments of Libet, et. al.? [see A Course in Consciousness, 5.9]. They found in the laboratory that one's awareness of an action occurs a split-second after an act of volition begins. Think about that for a minute. You get up to walk across the room before you think about or are aware of doing so. That seems to prove even scientifically that there is no such thing as free-will.
I: I'll have to give their experiments some serious thought, but I'm always a little sceptical of what they 'prove' in the lab. Perhaps that argument can be hopelessly regressed infiinitely, and become useless for our practical living. Freud 'proved' a hundred years ago there was much that was unconscious that determined our experiences. But the philosophers like to say there is no such thing as the unconscious, just different manifestations or modes of consciousness. Perhaps our will, therefore, is distinct from our thinking processes, and we do make choices without thought intervening. That doesn't necessarily mean there is no free will. As a matter of fact, are you aware that Libet later changed his stance to say that his experiments proved the existence of free will?!! Maybe it is our intuition, purified of a stunted feeling nature, which guides our actions. Our attunement with that intuitive faculty may be the measure of our free-will, that is, our freedom as Soul to identify with the will of the World-Idea and not the ego. Whether it is 'free-will' or not doesn't mean that much to me; whether the choice made or action taken is "dharmic" (perhaps a dirty word to you) is what is important for me. Our dilemma with such research as Libet is kind of exemplified in this limerick: "The centipede was happy, quite, until a toad in fun; said, "pray, which leg goes after which?" This threw his mind to such a pitch, he lay distracted in a ditch, wondering how to run!"
Furthermore, free-will and determinism are concepts denoting two relative polarities - and they both hang on the notion of causality, do they not? Therefore, if free-will is disallowed then determinism must go out the window, too. We can't have or absolute free-will or absolute determinism - the notions are meaningless. Neither can we have no free-will without no determinism. The truth is neither, and we end up with non-causality."
ND: Right. Everything in this world can be spoken of as the product of infinite causes, therefore we can never get to a first cause. In effect, then, there are no 'effects'! The entire universe is the 'cause' of the entire universe, so to talk of ultimate causation is meaningless. There are really no 'causes'. The entire doctrine of causality thus self-destructs. This is what the Buddhists meant by "Interdependent Origination". Hey, by saying there is neither free-will or determinism haven't you just proven my main point?!"
I: Oops!!" This is all just too difficult to understand.
ND: Or too difficult to believe? Hhhmm? Free will is only applicable within the mind and from the point of view of a separate self. The question can only arise within the dream or the waking state. What you probably have trouble with is the argument by Ramesh Balsekar that whether one tries or not, practices or not, is itself totally determined, that if an action happens, or a path is followed, or an inquiry is engaged, is all determined. Just because you cannot grasp that doesn't mean that it isn't true. It is a difficult argument, and unfortunately beyond the ken of Joe-sixpack, I'll agree with you there. Until you are ripe for it, you will make efforts, and your failures will lead you in the end to this truth. However, I'll agree that determinism is really a provisional teaching. In that sense Ramesh and Ramana were not giving out the ultimate truth when they said all is determined. The truth is one, unity, and inconceivable.
I: Now perhaps we are getting some place to where we can both agree. I say our efforts are necessary and inevitable even if only to show us our incompetency and powerlessness. Then what they talk about as the higher will can come into the picture. Here's what Anthony Damiani said about that:
"The Higher Will doesn't come down until after the moral conflict. So don't have any illusions about it, that you're going to wait around until the Higher Will comes down. It'll come down after your moral effort. This is what is the mystical death....That Higher Will doesn't come into action until after you've made the moral effort. In other words, you have to find out that you are impotent to change yourself. And you're not going to find out unless you try, and you really have to try because you can't kid the Soul. You'll never know what the limits are until you try. You have to exhaust whatever potentiality you have before you can say, "I give up." You can't say, "I give up," before you've started; that would be phony. But you're actually going to have to reach the point of satiation with frustration. I think I must have called on that higher help a thousand and one times. It doesn't hear me. It says, "Try harder." (Anthony Damiani, unpublished class notes: The Fallacy of Divine Identity, 7/13/83)
This 'higher will' may have been what the14th Century North Indian mystic named Lalla meant when he said:
Lord, you exist
as me. Your power moves,
and I start walking.
A prior impulse is the only difference
between us. Other than that,
everything I am is You."
"A prior impulse." Might not that be the higher will we need to become one with? But enough of going in circles. Let's look at what PB has to say. First, here are just a few quotes about rebirth or reincarnation in general as they relate to the will. All of the following are from the Notebooks, Vol. 6, Part 2:
"When a child is born or a man dies, the new world of his experience cannot be said to be either a ready-made one or an entirely personal one. The truth lies in a combination of both. The mystery of existence lies in the wonderful way in which such a combination is brought about." (2.13)
"All of his experiences during ages upon ages of his existence as a finite centre of life and consciousness have left their record in the mysterious and measureless seed-atom of his body." (2.97) [Note: this appears to be a quote reflecting PB's theosophical days - not to say it isn't true]
"None of us is thrown into this world against his will. All of us are here because we want to be here." (2.14)
"Some are eager to descend into a body again, but others are reluctant and are half-dragged down." (2.16)
These are interesting, in that PB seems to half-suggest there is a "someone" who wants or does not want to be reborn into a physical body. But he then adds the following, which implies that such is not entirely the case, and that he simultaneously holds more of the traditional Buddhist view that what is reborn are only tendencies in motion, from which an apparent "I" is reconstructed:
"The traits and tendencies which a man receives from the preceeding births constitute in their totality the personal self which he knows as "I." (2.33)
"What a man brings over from former births are the fixed ideas in the consciousness, the habitual direction of his feelings and the innate pulses of his will." (2.34)
Then he gives some quotes that show the paradox involved with "purpose" and "free will" in our births:
"What a man is, needs, or has done puts him just where he is." (2.36)
"The innate tendencies of his mental life give rise to the natural compulsion of his active life. He cannot behave differently from the way he does - that is, if he is not on the quest and therefore not struggling to rise beyond himself." (2.39)
"Only when the desire for perpetuation of personal existence finally leaves him is a man really near the point where even a little effort produces large results on this quest. But getting tired of the wheel of rebirth's turnings does not come easily." (2.139)
"We have to become in actuality what we are in potentiality; all our rebirths are engaged in this process." (2.210)
"Whether we confront the mystery called death or the equal mystery called life, the revelation must come in one or the other state: there is a connection with HE WHO IS. For this we are born and our oscillation between the two happens at the Mind of the World's behest. As, so sleepily and unwittingly, we shape and light up these fragments of being that we are, quite simply the connection gets uncovered more and more."
"Patience, little man, there is no possibility of your missing salvation. What if you have to wait through a number of reincarnations! You cannot lose this wide-stretched game, played all over the planet, for you cannot lose your innermost being. The Covenant with your Creator has been made and must be fulfilled in the end, however dubious the prospect seems today." (2.216)
[He carefully seems to capitalize 'Creator' here to leave room for avoiding the implication of a 'creator deity' and causality either via the doctrine of parinamavada (actual emanation or manifestation), or vivartavada (apparent manifestation), the latter two being provisional teachings in Vedanta, in favor of a final position of ajatavada (no-creation, or only non-dual Brahman). However, he seems to lean towards some version of vivartavada, at least until one has reached the terminal stages of the path, for which there are archtypal stages - not merely dialectical stages of argument].
"The Long Path of reincarnation is illusory. The Short path idea of it is an undulating wave, a ripple, a movement upward onward and downward. Since there is no ego in reality, there can be no rebirth of it. But we do have the appearance of a rebirth. Note that this applies to both the mind and body part of ego: they are both like a bubble floating on a stream and then vanishing or like a knot which is untied and then vanishes too. We have to accept the presence of this pseudo-entity, the ego - this mental thing born of many many earth lives - so long as we have to dwell in that other mental thing, the body. But we do not have to accept its dominance; we do not have to perpetuate its rule, for all is in the Mind. Where then are the reincarnatory experiences? Appearances which were like cinema shows. They happened in a time and space which were in the mind. The individual who emerged lost the individuality and merged in the timelessness of eternity. This is the unchanging indestructible Consciousness, the Overself." (2.220)
"The eventual trend of evolution is through and away from personality, as we now know it. We shall find ourselves afresh in a higher individuality, the soul. To achieve this, the lower characteristics have slowly to be shed. In this sense, we do die to the earthly self and are born again in the higher self. This is the only real death awaiting us." (2.223)
"The changes of personal identity under the process of reincarnation alone show that the little ego's immortality is a religious illusion. Only by finding its higher individuality is there any chance of preserving any identity at all, before nature re-absorbs what it has spawned." (2.231)
ND: Right there in that last quote you can see that PB only timidly and provisionally offered the hope for retaining a "higher individuality" when he talked about the Overself; but there is in truth no-self, no possibility of a reified individual identity. His kindness and language may give us a false hope or expectation of what realization is. The same goes for reincarnation, free will, and other such concepts.
I: You may be right. I may only be holding on to false hope. But inasmuch as non-duality is duality, form is emptiness, emptiness is form, and "there are more things on heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy," I will retain the concept as a practical one for now. PB wrote:
"Karma comes into play only if the karmic impression is strong enough to survive. In the case of the sage, because he treats life like a dream, because he sees through it as appearance, all his experiences are on the surface only. His deep inner mind remains untouched by them. Therefore he makes no karma from them, therefore he is able when passing out of the body at death to be finished with the round of birth and death forever." (3.569)
"The view that karma operated like an automatic machine is not a wholly true one; this is because it is not a wholly complete one. The missing element is grace." (3.570)
"It is sometimes asked, why should the Overself, through its grace, interfere with the workings of its own law of consequences? Why should it be able to set the karma of a man at naught? if the recurrence of karma is an eternal law, how can any power ever break it or interfere with its working? The answer is that the Overself does not violate the law of consequences at any time. If, through a man's own efforts he modifies its effects upon him in a particular instance, or if the same is brought about by the manifestation of grace, everything is still done within that law - for it must not be forgotten that the allotment selected for a particular incarnation does not exhaust the whole store of karma existing in a man's record. There is always very much more than a single earth-life's allotment. What happens is that a piece of good karma is brought into manifestation alongside of the bad karma, and of such a nature and at such a time as completely to neutralize it, if its modification is to be the ended result. Thus the same law still continues to operate, but there is a change in the result of its operation." (3.574)
"Whatever happens, the Overself is still there and will bring you through and out of your troubles. Whatever happens to your material affairs happens to your body, not the real YOU." (3.577)
Let's focus for now on the period of incarnation itself, and examine the idea of free will. Here are some additional quotes:
"The will's freedom has its limits. It must in the end conform to the evolutionary purposes of the World-idea. If, by a certain time, it fails to do so voluntarily, then these purposes invoke the forces of suffering and force the human entity to conform." (3.537
"If his evolutionary need should require it, he will be harassed by troubles to make him less attached to the world, or by sickness to make him less attached to the body. It is then not so much a matter of receiving self-earned destiny as of satisfying that need. Both coincide usually but not always and not necessarily. Nor does this happen with the ordinary man so much as it does with the questing man, for the latter has asked or prayed for speedier development." (3.247)
"A mistake in my published writing has been the emphasis on man's possession of free will. I did this deliberately to counteract the common impression that oriental mystical teaching is associated with a paralyzing fatalism and a futile inertia. Unfortunately, I overdid it. Consequently, I gave the impression that the quantity of free will we possess is about equal to or even more than the quantity of fate allotted to us. But, in their combination, the effects of the past, the pattern of our particular nature. and the influence of our environment govern our immediate actions very largely whilst the divine laws govern our ultimate direction within the universe quite fully. In such a situation, personal freedom must actually be less than we usually believe it to be. Again I have taught that no experience could come to us which we had not earned by our karma, which in turn was entirely the product of our free will. but I have since discovered that some experiences can come to us solely because we need them, not at all because we earn them. This is an important difference. It increases the sphere of personal fate and diminishes the sphere of personal freedom. However, in self-justification I ought to point out three things here about the kind of fatalism now put forward. First it is not paralyzing but, on the contrary, inspiring. For it tells us that there is a divine plan for us all and that true freedom lies in willingly accepting that infinitely wise and ultimately benevolent plan. Second, it emphatically offers no grounds for inertia for it bids us work with the plan - not only to secure our own individual happiness but also to help secure the common welfare of all. Third, it does not introduce anything arbitrary or despotic into God's will for us but retains the rule of intelligent purpose and restores evolutionary meaning to the general picture of our individual lives. if quite often the free will we imagine we are exercising does not exist outside such imagination, this need make no difference to our practical attitude towards life." (4.13)
"There are tides of fortune and circumstances whose ebb and flow wash the lives of men. There are cycles of changes which must be heeded and with which our plans and activities must be harmonized, if we are to live without friction and avoid wasting strength in futile struggles. We must learn when to move forward and thus rise to the crest of the tide, and when to retreat and retire." (3.327)
"For long I fought desperately against the notion of fate, since I had written screeds on the freedom of the will. But an initiation into the mysteries of casting and reading a horoscope began to batter down my defenses, while an initiation into profounder reflection caused me to suffer the final defeat." (3.334)
"Whatever happens to a man is in some way the consequence of what he did in the past, including the far-gone past of former births. But it may also be in part the imposition of the World-idea's pattern upon his own karmic pattern. if it comes, such imposition is irresistible for then the planetary rhythms are involved." (3.439)
"The view that karma operates like an automatic machine is not a wholly true one; this is because it is not a wholly complete one. The missing element is grace." (3.570)
"It is utterly beyond the power of man to perform an act of completely free will. In all situations he is presented with a limited series of choices and he must accept one of them, reject the others." (4.53)
"If freedom of will is utter illusion we have to ask ourselves why the Buddha, greatest of all advocates of the truth of inexorable karma, and whose enlightenment is incontestable, gave as his dying legacy to disciples the words, "Work out your own salvation?" If this is not a call to the use of will, of a free will, what is? it is hard for Westerners to accept a doctrine of complete fatalism, and the difficulty is not wholly due to their ignorance of spiritual facts which are elementary to Indians. it is also due to their instinctive refusal to be robbed of their initiative, and to their insistence on moral responsibility for ethical decisions and actions." (4.64)
"The really determined spiritual man has more powers of free will than others - powers to mold his life and to offset his karma and to create good karma to wipe out threatening or existing bad karma." (4.81)
"If in the larger sense free choice is illusory - or cosmos would become chaos - in the narrower sense it is real enough in reference to mental attitude, to spiritual standpoint, to the thought we have about a situation. The World-Idea must be fulfilled, but within that limit there is some amount of personal freedom." (4.89)
"The events of our future remain in a fluid state until a certain time. We have the free will to modify them during that period, although it is never an absolute freedom." (4.1)
"The destiny of an entire lifetime may be set by a single mistake, itself the consequence of ungoverned emotion or passion." (4.90)
"Fate hands him the opportunities and the difficulties: what he does with them is his choice, for which he is responsible." (4.92)
"In itself the will is free but in its activity it is not. This is because the effects of past acts and the necessities of evolution incline it toward a certain course." (4.107)
"Laws govern the universe: the latter could not have been conceived as it is, so mathematically, so orderly in numerical values, unless all things were in conformity with and obedient to the World-Idea..." (4.112)
"We are part of a process whose course and outcome are alike determined by the will of Heaven. In that sense the vaunted freedom of man is a mere chimera. But within those limits there are always two or more possibilities open to him and there lies his free choice..." (4.113)
"Where is man's free will? He is free to choose whether he will conform to the pattern of the World-idea, whether he will obey or not obey the higher laws." (4.114)
"The structure of the physical brain contributes largely to the way a man acts. This leaves him less room for free will than he thinks he has. But the brain (and the whole body) structure is itself the product of past self-made karma now functioning." (4.116)
I: It is possible that Libel, et. al., may have gotten different results in their free will experiments if they had worked with different evolutionary levels of people, i.e., those who possibly had different brain structure and functioning. The gap between the volition and the perception or thought might have been smaller, non-existent - or even reversed.
ND: I suppose that's possible. But I don't hold much with phenomenal science explaining that what is essentially noumenonal, although they were very interesting experiments.
I: Agreed. I don't think science can explain these things, but is seems to be getting a little closer. It may never get there, a priori, but at least it is eliminating more and more things that are nottrue. PB continues:
"His personal freedom does not stand alone, isolated, absolute. it is inseparable from a helpless determinism. Such is the paradox of the human situation." (4.123)
"What he wills in his highest moments is both a free act and a necessary act. In these moments the conflict vanishes, the paradox appears. In them alone the ego attains its highest power yet falls also into complete powerlessness." (4.148)
ND: Now you are starting to get closer to my point of view. You see, we are a bit like Miles in the '50's sci-fi movie, The Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Miles and Becky are holed out in his office when some of the "pod people" discover them. They have a discussion about what happens when you go to sleep and are 'taken over.' Miles says. "but is there no love then , no feeling?" The leader of the group says, "love; what is that? - has it ever lasted? It's much better to live without it, we're much better off; there's no pain, no discomfort, no foolish emotion." Miles says, "well then I want no part of it." The man replies, "you're forgetting one thing, Miles." "Huh, what's that?" he says.   "YOU HAVE NO CHOICE!"
Yung Ch'ia long ago said:
"Ask a wooden puppet
When it will attain Buddhahood
See, we have no choice, no free will; there is no subject, no object, no experiencer, nothing experienced; it is all an inferential illusion. Wei Wu Wei explains:
"It is often said that see-er, see-ing, and seen, or
experiencer, experiencing, and experiment, are one;
this may, in a colloquial sense, be so. But it is also
said that there is no see-ing without a see-er, no
experience (experiencing or experiment) without an
experiencer: this, however, is not so.
As far as I happen to know, only Krishnamurti seems to
have expressed this correctly. Without a see-ing, an
experiencing, there can be no see-er, no experiencer.
Neither before nor after a see-ing, an experiencing,
is there a see-er, an experience-er. The latter is
produced in order to explain, or to justify, the
phenomenon. In fact he has never existed, and could
never exist: he is just a supposition invented pour
les besoins de la cause - like the ether of an earlier
generation of scientists, who thought that if it did
not exist it jolly well ought to - in order to justify
their ways of interpreting the sensually-perceived
universe. As so often pointed out heretofore,
"see-ing," "experiencing," signify the cognition of
all forms of manifestation, and indicate the "pure
perception" which is subsequently interpreted as the
That which is "seen" or "experienced" is as imaginary
as the "see-er " and "experiencer": both are
interpretations of a movement in subjectivity which we
term see-ing and experiencing." (Ask the Awakened, p. 162-163)
Ranjit Maharaj says this about free will:
"12.1 "The body has no free will. Free will is always for the realized person." Free will is a concept that is considered almost sacred in the West, but which has no foundation in reality. It simply does not correspond to the way things are and, sooner or later, it has to be abandoned in favor of surrender to a higher power. The "free will" that the realized person enjoys comes from complete surrender. To see and experience the perfection of things as they are and to accept without reservation is true freedom of the will. The realized person always has the attitude "Thy will be done."
"As an aspirant, however, you cannot simply say "thy will be done" and stop making any effort. To go that way is to misunderstand Advaita. This mistake is illustrated by the story of the man who stood in the way of the elephant. The elephant's handler called out to the man to move but the man just said "I am God, the elephant is God, everything is God's will." Of course, he was knocked down and injured by the elephant. When he complained to his guru, saying that he had only repeated what the guru had told him, the guru said "the elephant's handler, who told you to get out of the way, was also God, but you chose to ignore Him at that point."
12.2 "Realized persons understand by mind only." The real, or final, understanding, is that there is no one who has anything to gain, no one who is seeking, and no one to understand. This understanding is what the apparent journey of spiritual seeking is heading towards. It should be clear, though, that the mind itself meets its death in this realization (which is why it is called "final" understanding). Unwittingly, the ego-mind brings about its own death. The ideas of the Master, once accepted and absorbed, transform the mind completely, reducing it to its original state of no-mind, or pure consciousness. Realization is the last scene of the last act for the purified mind. The curtain comes down on the false "doer." There is no repeat performance."
I: At least Ranjit Maharaj admits that to become a realized person some form of effort is necessary. Ramana Maharshi said the same. The stick must stir the fire and in the end itself be consumed. One cannot just sit around emulating the "laziness of the sage," who, the Ashtavakra Gita states, "has trouble even blinking." You do have one choice: to choose to know yourself.
ND: Yes, that is the only [apparent] true choice we have. Once more, here is a beauty from Wei Wu Wei:
"Of all that has to be "laid down" - conditioning, knowledge, religion, science, "self," perhaps the most important is the idea that one lives his own life. To lay down the rest and go on thinking that one lives instead of being lived, would be an idle gesture. We do not "choose" to be born, to grow old, to be well or ill, or to die; why on Earth should we imagine that we can choose anything in between, i.e., how we live, let alone everything? We are free to understand, which means free to know ourselves...that is our one and only freedom..." (Ask the Awakended, p. 164)
I: Awesome. I can feel that truly letting that one is quite a shocker [pause] .
It seems almost embarrassed to bring in the following after that masterful quote. I could, of course, counter by saying that while one doesn't choose to be well or ill, he does choose what to eat, whether to exercise, etc. - but then I know you will reply by saying that we don't choose for the thought to do those things to come into our minds, so I'll hold off for now.
Paramhansa Yogananda spoke practically. He essentially advocated the traditional practice of karma yoga to help one move beyond karma. Maybe as a philosophy it is a little weak, but nevertheless he stated:
"Bad karmic tendencies can be overcome, not by concentrating on them, but by developing their opposite good tendencies. Hence the importance of serving God. By service to Him, through others, you automatically divert toward development of good tendencies that energy which wants to take you in wrong, self-serving directions. ...You must be intensely active for God, if you would attain that actionless state of final union with Him." (The Essence of Self-Realization, 1990, p. 86-87)
This can be picked apart, and even Yogananda would agree that it is a intermediate position, that at some point the conceit of self will itself be seen through, but it is simply basic, practical advice. Here is more:
"The spiritual path is twenty-five percent the disciple's effort, twenty-five percent the guru's effort, and fifty percent the grace of God. Don't forget, however, that the twenty-five percent that is your part represents one hundred percent of your own effort and sincerity!"
"The desires of incarnations keep one endlessly wandering. Once, however, a sincere longing for God awakens in the heart, liberation is already assured, even though the process may take more incarnations. For that longing for God, too, is a desire, and must be fulfilled eventually." (Ibid, p. 94)
Returning to PB, he switches gears a bit and continues:
"Thoughts come to a man without his trying to bring them on, without his willing them into existence: they are there as part of his human conditioning. the same applies to feelings. Where then is his freedom of choice, and what then is the use of preaching to him that he should be good or aspirational? What is the use of teachings which lull him into the belief that he is free to create his own mental states, both good and evil, when moods, emotions, and ideas happen of themselves or come to him by themselves? Is it better for him to understand his limitations and not deceive himself, to know what he can and cannot do and thus not fall into illusions about his spiritual progress or spiritual failure? Moreover, if all is happening by the will of the World-Mind and all is comprised in the World-Idea, he himself is really doing nothing, thinking nothing, for all is being accomplished irrespective of his ego. To understand this situation and to accept it and to free himself from the idea that he is thinking, he is feeling, he is doing, is to free himself from the illusions of personal agency, doership, and egohood as being the ultimate truth about his own experiences." (4.155)
"The World-Idea will work itself out in any case, or as people say, nature will takes its course. The World-Idea has been operative through all past centuries, is operating now, and will operate through forseeable time. Whatever man does, he cannot obliterate it nor alter it and whenever he thinks he is doing so he is merely carrying out unwillingly the World-Idea." (4.156)
ND: Wait a minute! Those last two paragraphs seem to sum up much of what Professor Sobottka, Ramesh and Nisargadatta have been saying!
I: Yes, I know; I thought you'd notice that. But holding these two quotes in mind, in juxtaposition with all the others, is sure to send one into breathless samadhi, don't you think?!
Wei Wu Wei expresses the paradox even more 'painfully' [Ramesh Balsekar said he had read Open Secret at least one hundred times - I recommend one read that book before tackling Balsekar', whose writings may not be as accurate, in my opinion - see our third discussion in this series]:
"If you have the basic understanding that the primal Buddha-nature is that of all sentient beings, it follows that anyone who thinks that any action can lead to his "enlightenment" is turning his back on the truth; he is thinking that there is a "he" there to be "enlightened." whereas "enlightenment" is a name for the state wherein there is no separate individual at all, and which is that of all sentient beings, a name for what they are, but which cannot be recognized by anyone who believes himself to be an autonomous individual. That is why only the action of non-action, the practice of non-practice, unmotivated non-volitional functioning, can lead to that recognition of awakening, and why any kind of action, practice, or intentional procedure is an insurmountable barrier to such awakening. The error depends on the rooted superstition of the existence as such of an individual being." (Open Secret, 2004, p. 96-97)
The double-bind is clear. As a phenomenal being we are determined and have no volition, even while we may think we have; as a noumenon dreaming its phenomenon, on the other hand we have non-volitional being and are "lived" by Life. In radical truth, moreover, our phenomenal being is none other than the noumenon: form is emptiness, emptiness is form, etc.
"Nevertheless "volition" is only an inference, for search as we may, we can find no entity to exercise it. All we can find is an impulse which appears to be an expression of the notion of "I"...Volition, then, would seem to be an illusory inference, a mere demonstration on the part of an energised I-concept, resulting in either frustration of fulfillment and thereby being the source and explanation of the notion of karma. Sentient beings are entirely "lived" as such..and the psycho-somatic organism is inexorably subject to causation." (Ibid, p. 4)
Here is the kicker:
"Action" which implies "effort" implies "intention," which is Volition, which is the functional aspect of an I-concept. It should not be difficult to perceive that such "action" could not result in awakening from identification with - an I-concept!.....Unmotivated non-volitional functioning, mentioned above, as a continuous manner of "being lived" is a result of awakening rather than a "method" or "practice" to that end. It is also the Way itself, the way of living in the sense of Tao." (Ibid, Note, p. 97)
So, non-volitional functioning is needed for awakening, but it is also a product of awakening! Yet there is hope:
"Noumenally there is no volition - because there is no I. Phenomenally spontaneity alone is non-volitional. But by understanding what volition is not, the way may be found to be open whereby that "volition" which is non-volition may liberate us, as apparent objects, from the bondage which is due to that identification with an objectivisation, which we have never been, are not, and never could be." (Ibid, p. 6)
"By understanding what volition is not" [or what self is not, or what the "I" is not", or what "phenomenon" is not; in other words, understanding such through the via negativa process of 'neti neti' ] there is the chance that we may consciously fallinto the non-volitional state of "being lived" [ which we in fact already are, but just don't realize it].
Thus, there is no way out for the ego; the non-dual presentation is relentless. Either one benefits or not from immersion in its study and application in any given moment, but we need to here it at least from time to time to keep us headed in the right direction on the quest. Still, other help may still be necessary for some, such as karma yoga, or therapy, and/or the grace of a Master perhaps? This need for different kinds of help is why in the Lankavatara Sutra the speaker, for one thing, distinguished between the Dharmata Buddhas and the Transformation Buddhas; the Dharmata Buddhas (i.e., say, someone like Hui Neng - or John Wheeler) teach only the doctrine of the One Mind, while the Transformation Buddhas (basically, most Bodhisattvas, saints, and people like PB or the Dalai Lama) teach as needed to help the most people they can from where they find them. As PB said, those teachers who have gone through many trials and much understanding can thrown down a bridge which many different kinds of seekers can cross. If you don't have the wealth of experience in one life you teach what worked for you and then sometimes don't understand that everyone can't grasp it or how to help them further. One may also have jnana, and the ability to teach, but not the development required for being an agent for the Overself's grace, however valuable one's help is in its own right..
ND: I am reminded of Neo in the Matrix. When he discovers that consensual reality is an illusion or a fabrication but has yet to enter the real world he is having convulsions in a kind of unconscious state. Reasonableness of explanations are okay at the beginning to get people to give some credibility and acceptance to the teachings but at another phase it just causes one to incorporate spirituality into the consensual dream. The paradoxical and outrageous statements are needed to catapult you to the truth. That is why I like the term 'Zen-Advaita'. If you look with the prajna-eye instead of the thinking mind, you will be able to verify the truth of these seemingly paradoxical statements.
I: I'm convulsing already! Your metaphor, in fact, reminds me of the scene at the end of the movie Terminator 2. The cybernetic advanced metal alloy terminator falls into a vat of molten steel, starts to melt, and his CPU begins to shut-down. He emerges from the fiery soup again and again in nightmarish and distorted forms, first as various people whose bodies he replicated earlier in the movie, then with his head split in two, then a grimace here, an flaying arm there, etc., etc., but finally succumbs to his fate and goes down once and for all. Perhaps that's a bit like the end-game in pondering the the non-dual arguments.
ND: Hsi Yun spoke about this:
A: The arising and the elimination of illusion are both illusory. Illusion is not something rooted in Reality; it exists because of your dualistic thinking. If you will only cease to indulge in opposed concepts such as “ordinary” and “Enlightened,” illusion will cease of itself. And then if you still want to destroy it wherever it may be, you will find that there is not a hairsbreadth left of anything on which to lay hold. This is the meaning of: “I will let go with both hands, for then I shall certainly discover the Buddha in my mind.”
Q: If there is nothing on which to lay hold, how is the Dharma to be transmitted
A: It is a transmission of Mind with Mind.
Q: If Mind is used for transmission, why do you say that Mind too does not exist?
A: Obtaining no Dharma whatever is called Mind transmission. The understanding of this implies no Mind and no Dharma.
Q: If there is no Mind and no Dharma, what is meant by transmission?
A: You hear people speak of Mind transmission and then you talk of something to be received. So Bodhidharma said:
The nature of the Mind when understood,
No human speech can compass or disclose.
Enlightenment is naught to be attained,
And he that gains it does not say he knows.
If I were to make this clear to you, I doubt if you could stand it.”
And so did Wei Wu Wei:
"In early stages teachings can only be given via a series of untruths diminishing in inveracity in ratio to the pupil's apprehension of the falsity of what he is being taught..truth cannot be communicated: it can only be laid bare....."
"How many of us, writing our thoughts about Buddhism, even the purest Ch'an, express our thoughts in such a way that a sentient being is envisaged as a medium, that is, by inference, having objective existence? is this still not so even when the very subject of our thesis is the non-existence of a self? Indeed, how many of us are there who do not do this? Let us even ask how many texts are there in which this is not done or implied?"...If we have not seen for ourselves that this must be so, would it not be reasonable to expect that we would provisionally take it on trust from the lips of the Buddha, and apply it? Alas, no. It is too hard, too much to ask: conditioning is too powerful. Yet with out that understanding, that basic understanding, that sine qua non, for what can we hope? However much else we may have understood, have we in fact even started on the way - the pathless way that leads no body from no there to no here?" (op. cit., p.23, 17)
I: Hope...for what can we hope?..."Two notes of the chord is our forescope, and to reach that chord is our life's hope; and to name that chord is important to some, and they gave it a name, and they called it A U M......" - the Moody Blues.
ND: According to Ramana, forget reaching for Om, just inquire into the "I":
"It is said in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad that the first name of God is 'I'. 'Aham nama abhavat' ['I becomes the name']. Om came later." ( David Godman, The Power of the Presence, Part One (Tiruvannamalai, India: Sri Ramanasramam, 2000), p. 233). .
I: Woah! Better leave that one for another day.
ND: O.K., but why? All else is a distraction.
I would like to comment here that I have noticed that many questors miss the not uncommon experience of seeing the world as a dream. Many have had this experience, but fail to recognize it as a taste of mentalism while they await the achievement of trance, nirvikalpa, etc, which is unfortunate, as most of us westerners may never get anything like nirvikalpa, short of dying. Anthony said:
”When you experience the world as a dream you know you are getting closer to its reality. it is not reality yet, but you know you are getting closer. It is an intuitive understanding that dawns - that the mind projects the world, then experiences the world that it projects...when you experience the world as a dream, rather than the way you experience it now, there is an intuitive understanding that arises with it at the same time that you are coming closer to the very nature of the mind.” (Anthony Damiani, Looking Into Mind (Burdett, New York: Larson Publications, 1990), p. 43)
These experiences while subtle are real and should grant seekers an intuitive ease in their life, but many overlook them as somehow not true glimpses, holding out for the Big Bang. But the truth is that mind creates time and space, which allows duration and dimension, out of which a hypothetical “I” and a world is objectivised by us and then cognised as real by inference, really, nothing more, according to Wei Wu Wei (Open Secret, p. 2). The inquiry “Who or What or Where am I ?" cuts directly to the root of the mind, prior to all of manifestation.
I: Yes, I agree. The Self truly is no-thing, with a center everywhere and a circumference nowhere. I have been feeling those radical glimpses of timelessness lately. In fact, they seem to be happening more and more with age, have you noticed? They really have a metaphysical quality to them, even though I think everyone has them, they just don't appreciate them for what hey are. But just to be clear, as Alan Jacob points out in Advaita and Western Neo-Advaita:
"In fact the 'ghost of the me' doesn't really exist as an entity, this is true, but the notion of 'the false me' is very powerfully fueled subconsciously by the selfish-will and compounded by the vital force...It has to be diligently enquired into to be destroyed. The Maharshi says emphatically that our only freedom as an ajnani is to turn inwards. It is not trying 'to get something', it is rather trying to 'get rid of something', the sense of separation, i.e. identification with the thoughts, mind and feelings. Otherwise there is a permanent occlusion, the Granthi Knot, permanently screening off the tremendous power of the Real Self, which is the Absolute Unborn Deathless Consciousness, God, Unconditional Love, Dynamic Silence, and Oneness."
ND: Must you always make things so hard? Truth is easy, man. Just let it all go. Here's a few more words from Wei Wu Wei telling it like it is:
"Despite appearances to the contrary, nothing that is other than conceptual is done by a sentient being, for a sentient being objectively is only a phantom, a dream-figure, nor is anything done via a psycho-somatic apparatus, as such, other than the production of illusory images and interpretations, for that also has only an apparent, imagined or dreamed, existence. All phenomenal "existence" is hypothetical. All the characteristics of sentient beings - form, perceiving, conceiving, willing, knowing (the skhanda or aggregates) - are figments of mind which "itself," i.e., as such, also is hypothetical only [I: hypothetical? What'd you same your name was? - Clarence? oh, I thought so..next thing you'll be telling me is that I was never born - and don't answer that!]..Each and every action, every moment of each, in the extension and duration imagined so that they may be sensorially perceptible (that is, in the framework of space and time) are dreamed or imagined by a dreamer which has no quality of selfhood, of objective being - that is to say, by hypothetical mind." (Ibid, p. 18)
"Our dreamed "selves," autonomous in appearance, as in life, can be seen in awakened retrospect to be puppets totally devoid of volitional possibilities of their own. Nor is the dream in any degree dependent on them except as elements therein. They, who seem to think that they are living and acting autonomously, are being dreamed in their totality, they are being activated as completely and absolutely as puppets are activated by a puppeteer. Such is our apparent life, on this apparent earth, in this apparent universe." (Ibid, p. 19)
I: And I thought you said truth was easy. Need I remind you what Neo said?
ND: It is easier to BE it than to explain it.
I: Of course, of course. Well, It's been a pleasure debating and sharing with you. We are really not as far apart as we think (duh). Here is a wonderful summary of the life a seeker can look forward to when he finally throws in the towel, realizing and resting in the truth of knowing what a "puppet" he really is [and before I forget, this gives me a "puppet people" motif for my epitaph ]. Adyashanti says:
"While the world is trying to solve its problems and everyone around you is engaged in the same, you're not. While everybody around you is trying to figure it out, trying to arrive, trying to get there, trying to be worthy, you're not. While everyone thinks that awakening is a grand, noble, halo-enshrouded thing, for you it's not. While everybody is running from this life right now, in this moment, to try to get there, you're not. Where everybody has an argument with somebody else, mostly everybody else, starting with themselves, you don't. Where everybody is so sure that happiness will come when something is different than it is now, you know that it won't. When everybody else is looking to achieve the perfect state and hold on to it, you're not."
"When everybody around you has a whole host of ideas and beliefs about a whole variety of things, you don't. Everyone on the path is getting there; you haven't gotten anywhere. Everyone is climbing the mountain; you're selling hiking boots and picks at the foot in the hope that if they climb it and come back down, they may be too exhausted to do it again. When everybody else is looking to the next book, to the next teacher, to the next guru to be told what's real, to be given the secret key to an awakened life, you're not. You don't have a key because there's not a lock to put it in. When you're living what you are in an awakened way, being simply what you've always been, you're actually very simple. You basically sit around wondering what all the fuss is about."
"When everyone is sitting around saying, "I hope that happens to me", you remember when you did that. You remember that you didn't find a solution to that. You remember that the whole idea that there was a problem created all of that." (Adyashanti, Awakened Living Intensive, Berkeley, CA).
I: Yes, but before you get too excited here is a similar quotation from PB, with a caveat:
“He comes by growth of knowledge and width of views, by metaphysical evolution and emotional discipline, to a great calm. From then on he neither seeks eagerly for incarnational experience nor aspires loftily for liberation from it. Argument and discussion, meditation and exercises and spiritual states, labels and categories, teachers and teachings and quests are only for observation, not participation. Others may think he has lapsed and shake their heads in sorrow or pity. This is not to be used as counsel for beginners: if followed it could only hinder them. But to prevent limited views, sectarianism, and fanaticism arising among them, as so often it does, they can well be told occasionally that such a stage exists, and it may be theirs when a patient development brings them to it.” (Notebooks, Vol. 13, Part 1, 4.117)
The highlighted phrase cannot be over-emphasized.
ND: Maybe so, but we aren't beginners, are we?
I: Yes, yes, just so, of course not. But let's not also forget the following from Robert Adams, which just came to me or I would have mentioned it earlier:
Q. From what I’m reading about Ramana, the people around him were not practicing
Self-Inquiry as much as devotion...
R. You are right! You are right. That is why I tell you the story of the student who used to pull his fan. He used to stand by him and pull his fan for 40 years! Then one day he ‘dropped dead.’ Ramana looked at him and told them, “He is not coming back." That is why it is a combination of devotion and Knowledge-’Jnana’.....
Having spoken their piece, the non-separate participants in this debate called it a wrap and went their non-separate ways...............